The millennium showdown between Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani will be decided by a galaxy of factors neither completely controls. Giuliani will spend millions convincing suburban and upstate centrists that his grim “competence” is better for New York than her oozing “collegiality.” She will spend more millions trying to pivot the race around her issue advantage on health care and education. But factors from the Golan Heights to the Kensico reservoir, from who sits in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral to who marches on Saint Patty’s Day, from Bradley to Bush, from a Justice Department slam at the NYPD to a special prosecutor’s scorching of Hillary, could shape the contest of the new century. In 2000, Al Sharpton’s Albany Hijinks at the Diallo trial may well become Giuliani’s upstate fodder. Poughkeepsie-born Rudy Crew’s 60-second commercial on the mayor’s inability to work with others could strike a statewide resonant chord. Robert Kennedy Jr.’s crusade to save the watershed from Giuliani-backed developers might deliver a Westchester, if not Hudson Valley, margin to Hometown Hillary. A Joe Hynes or federal grand jury report on the fatal Williamsburg building collapse could underscore the ‘One City/Two Standards’ favoritism of Rudy’s City Hall.
Decisive action by the new Democratic majority in the Nassau County legislature in crunching the Republican budget deficit could keep Hillary close in GOP country, just as the embarrassment of the mob-tied conviction of the party’s Suffolk leader could help there. The first-year honeymoon of a Republican county executive in Erie—where Chuck Schumer won by 30,000 in 1998—could put a swing upstate region solidly in the Giuliani column. A Clinton- brokered cut in the high commercial airfares everywhere upstate could be a boost to her and to moribund economies like Onondaga County’s, where Syracuse’s mayor loves Rudy and even losing Al D’Amato got a 16,000-vote win in 1998.
If Hillary gets real and is welcomed in Westchester malls and supermarkets on shopping sprees with mom, if Chelsea transfers to Columbia or better yet upstate Colgate, if Donna gushes over her husband on the campaign trail like she did in 1993, if Barak marches in the Israeli Day Parade at Hillary’s side, if Rudy’s Yankees blow the pennant and the Bronx, if Dave Garth is physically well enough and Rudy accepts the “candidate-protection-program” discipline that made him mayor—any of these events could move points in a tight race.
Would Bill Bradley run as a Knickerbocker favorite son if he were the Democratic presidential nominee and win here by a million or more votes, bringing Hillary in with him? Would running with Bradley allow even Hillary to dodge Clinton fatigue?
What impact would it have on the senate race if either presidential ticket included a Catholic for vice president in a state whose electorate is more than 50 percent Catholic? How about Mario Cuomo?
Will the new archbishop do what John J. O’Connor did to Geraldine Ferraro in his first few months in 1984—denounce the Catholic candidate on abortion, pointing out, in Giuliani’s case, that he may be the only major Catholic Republican in America who supports “partial-birth” abortion?
Will the Right to Life Party join the Conservative Party backing a candidate who will make “partial-birth” abortion a central issue in the campaign, drawing more than a quarter of a million votes? Will the new archbishop grant a public audience to that candidate? Will George Pataki and Al D’Amato quietly help Conservative leader Mike Long, who will soon be the subject of Giuliani seduction?
Can Son of Ken Starr, new special prosecutor Robert Ray, the Brooklyn boy hired by Rudy in 1988 in his first prosecutorial job, indict Hillary in midyear or issue a report making a credible case against her?
Will Hillary’s kiss matter anywhere but Boro Park if a peace accord with Syria is signed?
Will Gerry Adams tour with Hillary, reminding the Irish that no president has done more to bring peace to Ireland than Bill Clinton, and no prosecutor did more to entomb Joe Doherty than Rudy Giuliani?
Can Rudy shut the Staten Island landfill ahead of schedule and in time to get the largest margin in history out of his favorite county?
Can the Clinton administration impose import controls to help Kodak—the kingpin employer in Monroe County (Rochester) so damaged by the Japanese? Can it act to revive job-hemorrhaging Lockheed Martin, whose search and navigation equipment plant near Syracuse has been hurt by military cutbacks?
Will an aroused labor, uncompromised by city contract talks in 2000, be a unified force behind Hillary and against the man who called transit workers criminals?
Is the state’s biggest ethnic bloc—the 25 percent who are Italian—such a monolith, even after electing a senator and governor, that it will still reflexively vote Rudolfo?
Will it become a kind of collective common wisdom, especially upstate, that Hillary’s traveling show is contemptibly arrogant, and will people vote with a show-her-the-door sneer that dismisses all other issues or interests?
Will Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch document the soft-on-bad-cops record of the Giuliani administration and install a federal monitor on the NYPD?
Will white media let Hillary speak to black concerns from brutality to affirmative action without painting it as pandering? Will it treat targeted appeals to blacks the same way it treats appeals, for example, to Jews?
Can the White House settle the Vieques matter in a way that secures Hillary’s Latino base?
Will Mort Zuckerman and Pinch Sulzberger allow any 2000 dealings with the Giuliani administration over their respective Times Square towers to influence coverage or endorsements? Will television assignment editors still let the Partisan Post set their news agenda on election coverage?
Is it finally going to dawn on New York women that this state has never elected one?
What would a market nosedive or recession do to Hillary or Rudy? What about a summer race incident or riot? What about another Oval Office romp? If Bill could stage a bombing attack to coincide with impeachment, what timely commander-in-chief crisis can he cause to prove his love to Hillary?
THE BIGGEST IMPONDERABLE IN THE SENATE RACE is the presidential. Anyone who doesn’t think it can influence a state race is a stranger not only to New York politics, but American politics. Senate majorities have shifted with presidential landslides. In this state, presidential and senatorial races have occurred simultaneously eight times in the last half century. (Gubernatorial and other statewide elections never occur in presidential years).
The same party whose presidential candidate carried the state won the senate seat five times, a different party three times, suggesting a minimal coattail effect. But a look at the eight races underlines just how important the presidential results will be in shaping a run for a vacant senate seat.
Each of the three times that a senator from a different party than the presidential winner was elected, he was an incumbent. Irving Ives, a Republican who was first elected to the senate in 1946, was reelected in 1952, even though Democrat Adlai Stevenson narrowly defeated the GOP’s Dwight Eisenhower on the state’s presidential ballot. Jacob Javits, a two-term Republican won again in 1968, even though Democrat Hubert Humphrey carried the state’s presidential election. Javits actually got fewer votes than his two opponents combined—Democrat Paul O’Dwyer and Conservative James Buckley. Al D’Amato, another two-term Republican, won a 98,000-vote squeaker in 1992 in part by attaching himself to Bill Clinton, who overwhelmed George Bush here.
In three other instances, the coattail effect was so strong it helped a challenger beat an incumbent whose party lost the statewide presidential election. Bobby Kennedy beat incumbent Republican Kenneth Keating in 1964, and Lyndon Johnson carried New York. Pat Moynihan beat Republican/Conservative James Buckley in 1976, and Jimmy Carter carried the state. In 1980, Al D’Amato beat incumbent Jacob Javits, who was running on the Liberal line alone in November, as well as Democrat Liz Holtzman. Ronald Reagan carried New York by twice D’Amato’s margin.
In 1956, neither Republican Javits nor Democrat Robert Wagner were incumbents, the only time in this half century prior to the 2000 election that a race for an open senate seat occurred at the same time as a presidential election. Like Rudy, Wagner was the NYC mayor. Javits was the state attorney general. Eisenhower reversed his 1952 numbers and clobbered Stevenson by a million-and-a-half vote margin, bringing in Javits, who defeated the son of a former senator by half a million.
The other simultaneous senate and presidential race was 1988—when Democrat Moynihan won by 2.1 million votes and Michael Dukakis by 266,000.
This track record indicates that the only protection against a coattail effect is incumbency, and that even incumbents have lost three times when on the wrong side of a presidential plurality. The Hillary/Rudy race will be the state’s first for a vacant senate seat in 42 years, whether you’re counting presidential or any other election (Keating won an open seat in 1958, right after Javits won one in 1956).
Open elections are so rare in NY they’re unpredictable, but history leaves little doubt that the top of the ticket attracts a different voter pool to the polls and influences senate outcome. There have been five open presidential races in the last 50 years and Democrats have won every time, suggesting again that precedent may be on Hillary’s side.
If Al Gore is the party nominee, the fate of a Clinton, for the first time, may well depend on his performance. A debate gaffe, a Buddhist blunder, too much starch, could make him a Mondale, and sink Hillary with him.
Vacuous but amiable George W. may also be just a toke away from being taken. He could start looking like his father, who lost here twice. His favorite Supreme Court judges could turn women voters against both him and the senate candidate running with him. His compassionate conservatism that excludes even gay Republicans could cost his senate sidekick. If it begins to look like big money is subsidizing a hereditary presidency, another Bush may go bust and Rudy with him.
THE OTHER HISTORY THAT MATTERS IS WHERE THE votes are. There are 1.9 million more registered Democrats than Republicans in NY, but that’s a misleading figure since thousands of people remain on the rolls after they’ve moved, and people have been leaving the state in record numbers throughout the decade. That’s roughly as true upstate as downstate. As Democratic as the state is in registration and presidential elections (the party has won 8 of the 12 races in the last 50 years), Republicans have won 9 senate contests, Democrats 7, and the Conservative Party, one.
The largest percentage increase in registration over the past 20 years has been among independent voters. Their numbers have grown from 932,000 to 2,201,000, a 136 percent burst. Every poll shows Giuliani running strongly among independents. Whereas the number of city Democrats and out-of-city Republicans was almost identical in 1980—hovering around the 1.6 million mark—they now outnumber upstate and suburban Republicans by 237,000. In fact, there are only 250,000 more Republicans outside the city than there are Democrats, down sharply from the half million margin of 1980.
While city papers will go on and on from now until election day about the pivotal percentage of the Jewish vote each candidate is drawing, white Catholics decide elections in NY. Everyone’s assumption is that Rudy wins the lion’s share, but the race will be decided by his margin.
The Irish is where Hillary should start; they are the second biggest voting bloc in the state. The first test of Hillary’s willingness to fight for this vote will occur in March, when she will either boycott or join the St. Patty’s parade. Chuck Schumer and his two 1998 primary opponents, Geraldine Ferraro and Mark Green, boycotted the parade, and it barely drew a line of press coverage. Rudy and his tabloid touters will pounce on a similar Hillary posture. It will become a major television and upstate story and it will drive the early months of the campaign, possibly killing her with Catholics, the Irish in particular.
Hillary has to convince gay leadership that the parade boycott is a self-defeating litmus test. Smart civil rights movements pick winnable targets, not 2000-year-old orthodoxy on parade. Smart movements pursue goals that affect lives, not one-day cathartic episodes. Making an enemy out of anyone who participates in a church-connected parade that bars gays from proclaiming their sexuality is dumb politics. It has already cost real political friends votes—like David Dinkins and Ruth Messinger—and heightened Irish hostility to gay interests.
If Hillary decides—for whatever reason—not to show, she should get herself out to Pearl River in Rockland County, where the state’s second biggest and the nation’s ninth biggest St. Patty’s parade is held and where gays have not made marching a sin. A campaign that concentrates media buys on Notre Dame football games, visits Sons of Italy events, turns the Irish peace agreement into a commercial, and searches for ways to move slices of the Catholic vote may beat Rudy.
The 10 counties with the most votes include four in the city, the three great suburban counties, and Erie, Monroe, and Onondaga upstate. Eliot Spitzer won the attorney general race in 1998 by carrying just one of the outside NYC counties—Westchester, which has a Democratic county executive and is vital to any Hillary strategy. He won 75 percent of combined Spitzer/ Vacco votes in the city, counteracting equally lopsided losses in Erie and elsewhere upstate, where native son Dennis Vacco was popular. Though Spitzer only got 66,000 votes on the Liberal line, he would’ve lost the election by 50,000 votes without it. Had Vacco accepted the Right to Life line that was offered him, he presumably would’ve collected the 60,399 votes that instead went to a party stalwart and beaten Spitzer.
Schumer carried Westchester, Erie, and Monroe, walloping D’Amato by a half million votes and leaving a road map of where a smart Hillary campaign, perhaps run by the same media consultant Hank Morris, will find its own majority. Schumer and Spitzer were the first two Jewish Democrats to ever defeat a Catholic Republican incumbent in the history of the state; the fact that both did it in the same year suggests a shift in statewide voting patterns.
The critical role of third parties in deciding close statewide elections has been demonstrated again and again in Senate and other statewide races like Spitzer’s. The Conservative Party gave George Pataki his winning margin in 1994. D’Amato would not have made it to the Senate in 1980 without the 427,000 votes he collected on the Conservative and Right to Life lines. His Republican tally put him 346,000 votes behind Holtzman. Of course, Javits’s 664,544 votes on the Liberal line—where he continued to run after losing the Republican primary—was also decisive.
In 1992, Robert Abrams’s total on the Democratic line was 290,000 more than D’Amato’s on the Republican. D’Amato’s 514,000 on the Conservative and Right to Life lines, however, far exceeded the 143,000 votes Abrams got on the Liberal line. Of course, the Conservatives elected a senator on their own line alone in 1970, when Buckley narrowly defeated Democrat Dick Ottinger. Ironically, the Liberals made this triumph possible by endorsing the Republican incumbent Charles Goodell, who took away enough votes from Ottinger to elect Buckley. Though the Goodell endorsement helped turn the Conservatives into a far more significant force in state politics than the Libs, they did it at the behest of Mayor John Lindsay, who, like Giuliani today, controlled the party through patronage and favors.
No Republican has won statewide without the Conservative line since Javits in 1974. Giuliani appears poised to try. No Republican has won statewide on the Liberal line since Javits either, and running on it may just drive more independents and Republicans to the Conservative Party candidate. Ray Harding and Rudy have to figure out if it’s better for Rudy if the Libs run their own candidate who can draw votes away from Hillary. The Independence Party, which has the third spot on the ballot and could go in either direction, will also be a major factor. In any event, the third-party gyrations may well decide this election.
Research assistance by Jennifer Warren