The New York State race for U.S. Senate to replace the retiring Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Democrat, has received considerable national attention as Democratic First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.S. Rep. Rick Lazio (R-N.Y.) duel out the final days of campaigning.
Lazio was a late entrant to the race, taking the Republican nomination after New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani decided not to run due to prostate cancer and, to a lesser extent, marital problems.
Almost immediately following his nomination, the polls showed Clinton and Lazio on fairly equal ground, with Clinton usually in the lead, but a Wednesday Zogby poll indicated that Lazio was leading 48 to 43 percent over Clinton. Other polls show a race that is too close to call.
In general, Lazio has more support in the suburbs while Clinton is favored in New York City. The upstate region, which includes Tompkins County, is viewed as a crucial battleground.
The closeness of the Clinton-Lazio race can be attributed to the nature of New York State according to Mike Moschella ’02, president of the Cornell Democrats.
“New York is a very diverse state … and since the economy is pretty diverse too, with a very urban center that has prospered tremendously compared to a rural area in upstate that has been sort of left behind, that brings differences in political opinion,” Moschella explained.
He added that Clinton is received very well in Ithaca and he expects to see many votes cast for her on election day.
“It’s a very well-educated town that tends to be towards the left of the political aisle,” he said.
Amy Gershkoff ’02, chair of Leaders for Lazio, felt that this election embodies differences in government philosophy.
Gershkoff commended Lazio for his integrity and respectability. “To me, Rick Lazio is the candidate I most respect out of any election.” She referred to his childhood as the “American dream story” explaining that his parents, Italian immigrants and blue collar workers, struggled to help Lazio pay for his education.
She then explained the importance of his record in Congress, stressing that Lazio sponsored the Breast and Cervical Cancer Act that made diagnostic tests as well as treatment more affordable for low income women.
“He’s done work for the handicapped and various other disadvantaged groups,” Gershkoff said. “There are plenty of cold-hearted conservatives out there, but Rick Lazio is not one of them. I’ve been so excited to work on his campaign.”
On the contrary, Moschella condemned Lazio for not having a respectable record in Congress and for voting primarily on party lines.
“People on both sides will agree, Rick Lazio has been hostile, and that’s reflected when you see votes to eliminate the Department of Education and to cut Medicaid funding. If he were in the Senate, it would be no surprise to see him voting with Trent Lott on the vast majority of issues,” Moschella said.
In the final weeks of campaigning, both candidates have been traveling all over New York, both in person and via the air waves, to express their devotion to the state and emphasize their stances on the issues.
“I think the most important issues are taxation, education, social security and the general philosophy of government,” Gershkoff said as she contrasted Lazio’s commitment to empower the public in making their own decisions versus the Democratic philosophy in which “the government should make the decisions for you.”
She praised his stance on taxation, which consists of giving some of the surplus back to the people and raising the amount that people can contribute to a retirement account, tax-free. Gershkoff also backed his support of school vouchers.
Moschella stressed the issue of education. “For Cornell students especially, the education issue is the biggest, and there are pretty big differences in what [Clinton and Lazio] plan to do, especially concerning college education. Hillary has proposed to expand college tax cuts, where Lazio has voted repeatedly to oppose new loans and the amount of money appropriated for loan programs.”
He also addressed the soft money issue, where Lazio approached Clinton during a debate and asked her to sign an agreement pledging to refuse soft money for her campaign.
“I think Hillary handled that very well. When Rick Lazio came over to her in the debate, I think she responded appropriately [by not signing the document],” Moschella said. “Later, she did sign and agree with Rick Lazio to not use soft money to produce television commercials. About ten days later, the Lazio campaign violated that promise. She pointed this out, but still maintained a positive attitude in her campaign.”
Republicans currently have a 54 to 46 advantage over Democrats in the Senate, but 19 GOP seats are up for election tomorrow compared to only 15 Democratic seats, thus the outcome of the New York contest could go a long way toward determining which party has control of the upper chamber in January.
Stephen Philip Johnson, assistant vice president for government affairs, emphasized that the majority party in the Senate is often more effective when the executive branch is of the same party.
“In terms of being able to reach to the administration, many of the issues that come up are often very small requests for information. If it’s [Texas Gov. George W.] Bush in the presidency, my expectation would be that he would be more likely to listen to Mr. Lazio than Mrs. Clinton and vice versa for [Vice President Al] Gore.”
Lazio was born in Amityville, N.Y. in 1958. He graduated from Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. and received his law degree from American University in 1983. Lazio was elected to his House seat in 1992, defeating 18-year incumbent Democrat Tom Downey, now a prominent campaign advisor to Gore.
Clinton was born in Chicago in 1947. In 1969, she graduated from Wellesley College and enrolled in Yale Law School. She then practiced law in Arkansas and participated in numerous political committees while her husband, Bill Clinton, served as governor of Arkansas and later president.
Archived article by Olga Byrne