September 14, 2000

Clinton, Lazio Face Off In Debate

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Last night, Senate hopefuls First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and Congressman Rick Lazio R-N.Y. squared off in the first debate of their New York Senate race. On campus here at Cornell University, the importance of the race is clear for students.

Lazio and Clinton supporters alike organized viewings of the debate which was broadcast live by local NBC television yesterday evening at 7 p.m. Mike Moschella ’02, President of the Cornell Democrats, said after the debate that “there is certainly a lot of interest in the campaigns,” adding that both sides of the race are “well mobilized” at Cornell.

Issues raised at the debate included the economic future of upstate and western New York, including that of Ithaca and the Cornell community. Erik Weinick ’98, J.D. ’01, Statewide Co-Chair of Students 4 Lazio, drew a contrast between Clinton’s and Lazio’s approach to economic development.

He cited Lazio’s efforts to extend the role of technology. He also criticized Clinton’s tendency to “throw money” at real problems, such as economic stagnation in upstate New York. By contrast, Weinick lauded Lazio’s efforts to help local communities address issues.

Lazio made the issue of soft money influencing campaigns a feature of the debate. Walking across the studio stage with a signed pact in hand, he challenged Clinton to live up to the rhetoric of campaign finance reform.

Moschella argued, however, that the issue of soft money is more complex than Lazio made it seem. “When you dig a little deeper,” he said, “you find that Clinton is more proactive” on campaign reform than Lazio and his Republican colleagues. Weinick argued that Lazio “showed a lot of courage tonight,” pledging to act with the interest of the people, and not outside interest groups, in mind.

Both Moschella and Weinick downplayed the relevance of the fact that the First Lady is not a native New Yorker. Moschella holds that when voters go to the polls on election day, their true interests in the well-being of New York State will make her place of birth unimportant. Indeed, Clinton emphasized during the debate that “its more important what I’m for than where I’m from.” Weinick similarly felt that Lazio’s merit will play a larger role in the election than his opponent’s birthplace.

Finally, Moschella remained excited by the possibilities of such a figure as Clinton in a New York Senate seat. Her political connections will give her an incredible “ability to accomplish,” he says.

In the wake of the debate, it remains to be seen what effect the candidates have had on public opinion. Two polls released September 12 by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion and Quinnipiac University indicate that Clinton held a 49 to 44 percent edge over Lazio among likely voters on the eve of the debate. In such a tight race, said Moschella, a debate like this “has potential to be a watershed for either campaign.”

Archived article by Maison Rippeteau