As recently as last week, word had it that Jeanine Pirro, the Westchester County district attorney, was ruling out a bid for the U.S. Senate. That supposedly put to rest questions about whether she’d challenge Hillary Clinton in 2006. Pirro’s been mulling a run for months now, even as her friends have said she considers it a “suicide mission.”
On Monday, though, the high-profile prosecutor reversed course, declaring herself a candidate to unseat Senator Clinton next year. Pirro said she’d make her candidacy official on Wednesday with appearances in New York City, Albany, and Buffalo.
In a statement, she offered up no reason for the change of heart, instead taking aim at her prospective opponent. “I am running against Hillary Clinton because New York State deserves a Senator who will give her all to the people of New York for a full term, who will not miss votes to campaign in primaries,” Pirro said, adding, “She wants us to re-elect her even though she won’t promise to serve out her term and wants to use us as a springboard to the presidency.”
But is that really enough to justify a kamikaze dive by a politician so clearly on the rise? If Clinton isn’t unbeatable, she’s at least looking good in the polls-the latest poll has her besting Pirro, 63 to 29 percent.
Pirro surprised even some New York Republicans who believe she easily could have taken the attorney general office being vacated by Eliot Spitzer. As one prominent GOP-er confides, “I thought she’d go for the A.G. seat – it’s natural, it’s winnable. She could have won the race hands down.”
It’s no secret that Pirro has experienced some mighty big pressure to get in the game. First, there were state Republicans looking to draft a female candidate for the race-46 county chairs sent her a letter recently urging her to run. And then came the national GOP-ers who believe that, although Pirro may not beat Hillary next year, she could at least do some damage to the senator in advance of her likely 2008 presidential run.
Privately, some Republicans without ties to the Pirro camp suspect that the national party helped to sell the Senate bid. “They probably have her convinced that if she doesn’t win, they’ll take good care of her and give her a position in the national spotlight,” says one such GOP-er. Maybe a cabinet post in a future administration – or, better yet, maybe the U.S. attorney general slot.
“The Republican National Committee will owe her big time,” echoes another Republican with no ties to Pirro. “It’s a chip to cash in and the sky’s unlimited.”
Those close to Pirro suggest the D.A. has made a logical choice. Republican analyst Michael Edelman, who has known Pirro for 32 years, says, “It’s more fun to be a U.S. senator” than attorney general. “You have more input,” he explains. “You have the opportunity to make national policy on fiscal issues, law-enforcement issues, environmental issues, and, of course, foreign-policy issues.”
Besides, he suggests that Pirro represents about the only star power in the GOP arsenal to actually rival Clinton – Rudy Giuliani has swatted down talk of a White House bid, and so, less convincingly, has George Pataki. “Jeanine is a celebrity in her own right,” Edelman observes, “and, to win a seat like this, you’ve got to be a celebrity yourself.”
Just how much of a celebrity Pirro will be on the campaign trail remains to be seen.