Democrats See Sunlight

Polls Apart

Worried Democrats are taking heart from recent polls. In the presidential race, despite scorched-earth attacks from the right, Beta Al Gore finally may be edging toward the Alpha status he so desperately craves. In New York, with the hoopla over Rick Lazio’s late entrance having subsided, Hillary looks stronger than ever upstate, where pollsters believe the election will be decided.

Nationally, with each candidate having gone through several incarnations in an attempt to fashion a winning identity, the executioner may have bottomed out, allowing the slumlord to drop his snarling attacks and assume the mantle of statesmanship. For the vice president, this means speaking grandly of such things as environmental degradation, health care, and the loathsome “family agenda,” on which Gore gets up close and personal, never tiring of lecturing ad infinitum about the meaning of it all.

Late last week, polls showed the onetime St. Albans grid whiz had narrowed the erstwhile Andover cheerleader’s lead to a dead heat, with Zogby/Reuters putting the repentant Bob Jones racial impresario up by a hair: 42-41. The week before last, the Hotline Bullseye Poll had Shrub out front, 43-41.

“It’s hard for me to see Gore losing,” says John Zogby. “Based on who the undecideds are and the fact that after Bush has had two very good months, I have them tied. Bush was ahead by 15 points. So where does he go from here?”

The Hotline poll shows Gore and Bush nip and tuck in states where presidential races traditionally have been determined: Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Missouri, and Pennsylvania. In the key industrial state of Ohio Bush is ahead, but only by six points.

In the New York Senate race, says Zogby, “I’ve got a two-point contest, 46-44.” The Daily News Poll also shows a close race: 46-42. “Statistically insignificant,” observes Zogby. “There are 40 percent of the voters who are ready to vote against Hillary. And Lazio proved that in the first week. All they needed to know was that he passed the minimal standards. I think it’s an evenly matched race.”

What will move it? “Hillary, by and large,” says Zogby. “It’s about whether the remaining undecideds will accept her or not. She is doing a good job campaigning. By going to the upstate cities, she is going to the right places — because she gets a multiple impact: pockets of Democrats and white working women, whom she needs, union voters, plus she gets a lot of very favorable local media attention. So the issue will be whether she can hold Lazio’s overall lead down to single digits and continue to win urban votes upstate.”

Over the weekend, the first lady scored well in public events both upstate and downstate, parodying her multiple Yankees cap promotions at the Albany correspondents’ dinner — at which Lazio remained mute — and then drawing cheers at the Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City, where Lazio and Giuliani were lustily booed.

Australian for Assisted Suicide

Anchors Aweigh

Philip Nitschke, known as Australia’s “Dr. Death,” is proposing a new wrinkle in the assisted-suicide business with a plan to load terminally ill patients aboard a ship that would sail into international waters, where they would be aided in shuffling off the mortal coil.

“I want to see if I can operate a vessel outside the 200-mile international shipping limit and take advantage of international law to allow patients access to a peaceful death,” Nitschke told Agence France Presse last week. He already has helped four people commit suicide, arousing such controversy that the Australian Parliament, in a “conscience vote,” overruled a provincial law permitting euthanasia.

Nitschke is credited with having invented a desktop death machine utilizing a laptop computer on which a patient is asked a series of questions, such as whether he or she truly wants to die, and which, if the answer is yes, discharges a dose of lethal drugs through a mechanical syringe. Nitschke says that 200 people have contacted him about assisted suicide over the last 18 months.

Beres Wenck, president of the Queensland branch of the Australian Medical Association, which opposes the plan, criticized Nitschke for removing terminally ill patients “from their homes, from their loved ones, and taking them… out in the sea to actually arrange their death.”

Clark W. Trammell, vice president of the American Hemlock Society, the leading assisted-suicide group in the United States, said the organization would take “no position at this time” on the ship project because details are sketchy. The group hopes to discuss the idea with Nitschke when he comes to Boston later this year. But Trammell said that if the ships are run like Nitschke’s clinics, where patients are informed about the laws and the choices involved, the Hemlock Society might well support it. Eventually, he thinks, the matter will end up in the World Court.

“It would take huge sums — probably a million dollars — to get the project going, and nobody is going to spend that money,” Derek Humphrey, founder of the Hemlock Society, said in an e-mail. “All the English-speaking nations, and I think most others, have laws which cover maritime crimes. There have been murder cases where the person who did the killing on the high seas was tried on reaching port and executed.”

Vigilantes Target Aliens

Border War

Tensions along the Southwest border have escalated into something like guerrilla war between U.S. ranchers and Mexican citizens. Some ranchers have formed vigilante patrols, which operate in the shadow of the U.S. Border Patrol, making citizen’s arrests of illegal aliens crossing their lands. There have been two deaths and eight arrests so far. In Texas, one Mexican was shot and killed by a border patrol officer in a fight and another was killed by husband-and-wife ranchers. When the man came to their door asking for food and water, the couple chased him and then gunned him down. Farther west, ranchers in Arizona, calling themselves Concerned Citizens of Cochise County, and a California group called the American Patrol are setting up squads to monitor the U.S. Border Patrol.

In response to these and other incidents, a Mexican group, the Citizens Defense Committee, recently offered $10,000 for the killing of a U.S. Border Patrol officer. Carlos Ibarra Perez, president of the group, made the offer in front of the city hall in Reynosa, Mexico. Two days later he said on a San Diego talk show that he was retracting the offer to “avoid violence.”

In Mexico, foreign minister Rosario Green warned that the situation amounted to a “red alert.” As the tensions escalated, the U.S. sent 250 additional agents to the area. Local lawmen aren’t making things any better. Attending a meeting of anti-immigration activists, Reuters reports, “Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever asked them to stay within the law when making citizens’ arrests. He said private citizens arresting trespassers on their property can use any means ‘up to and including the threat of deadly force, but not the use of deadly force.'”

Republican congressman Jim Kolbe of Tucson wrote an impassioned letter to President Clinton, describing his constituents as virtual prisoners in their own communities. “They cannot take a simple evening stroll,” Kolbe told Clinton. “Some cannot go for a walk unarmed. Many rural residents are afraid to leave their homes unattended for fear that they will be robbed. As a result, a husband and wife cannot even go out for a simple dinner.”

NRA Eyes Times Square

.42-Caliber Latte

Despite reservations by Mayor Giuliani, the National Rifle Association is pushing ahead with closed-door talks, described as “very serious,” aimed at creating a theme restaurant/store in Times Square, where patrons will be able to feast on wild game and can buy camping gear with the NRA logo, but no guns. In the restaurant, Second Amendment partisans will nosh on delicacies such as elk steak and buffalo burgers.

NRA spokesman Bill Powers insists the eatery won’t sell meat from endangered species, adding that the NRA may put in high-tech computer-simulation shooting games for kids. But already the joint is becoming a cause célèbre for the patriot crowd as evidenced by America’s Coffee Company‘s promise to sell its made-in-the-U.S.A. blends.

Michael Wilson, president of the Seattle company, made news recently when he promised to help sponsor Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s talk-radio show. (Proctor & Gamble, which makes Folger’s coffee, backed out of Schlessinger’s program after she received extensive criticism for trashing gays and lesbians.) Wilson said he’s excited about parachuting into the hot New York market with a new brand called “Al Sharpton.” America’s Coffee sets up private labels for other companies as well as groups like the Christian Coalition.

That Bulge of Bill’s

Often depicting himself as an ardent shopper, President Clinton seldom gets a chance to do so, a friend tells U.S. News & World Report. “He carries cash, typically about $200 in small bills. But it gets little use: He tosses it to an aide when golfing or shaking hands so it doesn’t get in the way or get stolen.”

Additional reporting: Kate Cortesi