Posted on March 08, 1999 in Washington Watch

Speculation that First Lady Hillary Clinton may run for a Senate seat in 2000 has dominated political news coverage in recent days.

It is a fascinating story. The Senate seat in New York State is opening because of the retirement of Democrat Daniel Moynihan. Moynihan has served since 1976. Because the Constitution does not require residency in a state prior to running for the Senate, anyone may run for the position. In 1964, for example, Robert F. Kennedy, not a New Yorker, riding on the popularity of the Kennedy legacy, ran and won the New York Senate seat.

Mrs. Clinton can legally run for the post and appears to be seriously considering this option for a number of reasons.

One political analyst speculates that she may want, in effect, to declare her independence and establish herself as a political leader in her own right. Since she is still quite young, she may even choose to run for the Presidency at some point.
While Mrs. Clinton is recognized as an outspoken and capable leader, for more than 20 years she has been a supporter of her husband’s aspirations. Even during the times when Bill Clinton was Governor of Arkansas, political observers who witnessed Hillary Clinton in action felt that she had proven political skills and ambitions of her own.

She suffered a slight setback during her husband’s first presidential term, with the mishandling of the health care reform program. But she has clearly recovered and has established herself as one of the United States’ most popular and respected political leaders.

Hillary Clinton’s charisma is unquestionably one of the Democratic Party’s strongest assets. In 1996, she was the party’s “secret weapon”. Her frequent visits to New York State were a major factor contributing to the Democratic victory over Republican Senator Al D’Amato.

She has also been a prodigious fundraiser. A recent Democratic Party fundraising appeal issued in her name raised three times the expected amount. And last week’s visit to New York City for a party fundraiser was an overwhelming success. More than 900 donors filled the ballroom to capacity, while another 300 donors had to be turned away at the door.

Mrs. Clinton is a major star, who many believe deserves to shine on her own.
But before she actually decides to run for an office, there are many issues that she will have to examine.

On the positive side, there is, of course, her popularity both nationally and in New York. She has great name recognition and is a proven campaigner and fundraiser. Furthermore, she is the right kind of Democrat for New York State. She is a liberal Democrat, who is known for her advocacy of women and minorities, for education and health care–issues and constituencies that are strong in that state.

And there will be many Democrats in New York and nationally who will want Mrs. Clinton to run. Certainly, if Democrats are to have any chance of regaining control of the Senate, they cannot afford to lose the New York seat they currently hold. Polls show Mrs. Clinton to be the strongest possible Democratic candidate who can beat all the possible Republican challengers.

But there are negative factors, as well that must be considered. New York politics can be dirty and rough. The New York press loves a fight between candidates and frequently provokes fights on their own.

The expected Republican challenger for the Senate seat is New York City’s popular Mayor Rudolph Guiliani. Guiliani has recently dropped a bit in the polls due to the scandalous murder of an African immigrant resulting from an excessive use of force by New York police. Guiliani is held responsible for this because he has in the past encouraged the police to “get tough”.

But the mayor remains popular and is a strong candidate and is known to be a tough campaigner. Guiliani will be respectful of Mrs. Clinton, as long as she is the First Lady. But if she announced her candidacy, he will, without a doubt, attack her will full force.

Some political observers suggest that Mrs. Clinton should not run because it is too risky for her. She does not need to hold elective office to have a political platform from which to advocate her issues. As a former First Lady, they say, she will remain a national spokesperson. If, on the other hand, she runs and loses, her legacy would be tarnished and her stature diminished.

John Zogby, a New York state pollster, offers an additional concern. He suggests that the most important issue for the Clintons’ is their legacy. He believes that to protect the legacy of the Clinton Administration, they need to insure an Al Gore victory in 2000. If Mrs. Clinton runs in 2000 than the Clinton legacy will require both a Gore victory and a victory in New York state–in other words, victory on two fronts instead of only one.

To that concern, some Democrats add another concern. Mrs. Clinton, they note, can be a significant national campaigner for Democrats in 2000. She can help Al Gore nationally and help campaign for Democratic candidates for House and Senate seats all across the United States. If she were to run for her own seat in New York, she will have to surrender her national role and will, in effect, be competing with Gore for both money and attention.

The issue of Mrs. Clinton’s support for a Palestinian state, is in all likelihood an issue that Republicans will attempt to use against her in New York. However, this will not be a negative factor against her running. Recent polls show that by a two-to-one margin, New Yorkers support a Palestinian state. Most New York Jews also support this notion. In a recent meeting with New York Jewish leaders Mrs. Clinton reaffirmed her personal preference that the Palestinians deserve an independent state. She added, however, her belief that the issue must be resolved by negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. The leaders left the meeting pleased.

In fact, should the First Lady run and be attacked by the right wing for her advocacy of a Palestinian state, it will most probably help to legitimize this issue and spur a public debate. That would be positive for the issue and the country and for Middle East peace.

At this point, Mrs. Clinton has not decided to run. The very fact that she has allowed speculation to develop about a possible candidacy and has fed the discussion by frequent meetings on the subject with New York advisors, has caused many to believe that she will, in the end enter the race. Her candidacy is still not certain. What is certain, however, is that if she does run, the New York Senate race will be an election like no other. It will be the closest watched Senate race in history. The attention given to it will probably rival the 2000 race for the Presidency.

For comments or information, contact jzogby@aaiusa.org

comments powered by Disqus