Congressman Rick Lazio (R-N.Y.) still staked claim to New York, even after losing the state’s contested seat for U.S. Senate to First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday.
With “New York, New York” playing in the background, Lazio flashed his signature boyish smile, shrugged his shoulders and conceded the Senate race as supporters and media convened in the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City.
Clinton, ahead in the polls and just needing a strong Democratic turnout, provided an uphill battle for Lazio and produced early results.
“I feel like the Mets; we came in second,” Lazio said with a sigh. “I just want to say this crowd reaction was what I was hoping for,” he said. “This speech was not what I was hoping for.”
Five months ago, Lazio set out on his campaign against the First Lady, after New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani withdrew due to prostate cancer and marital problems. Calling on voters to select “one of their own,” and criticizing Clinton for a lack of character and integrity, Lazio kicked off his campaign.
He also tried appealing to the state electorate with his fiscal conservatism and his moderate voting record in the House of Representatives.
“I love this state,” Lazio said last night in his concession speech. “I have been proud to represent it in Congress for eight years.”
He continued, saying his campaigners, “did it with integrity, we did it the right way.”
Lazio urged his supporters that the political system can work again in the future and be rid of the problems, which he attributed to Clinton administration, that plagued it in the past.
“[The campaign] was not in vain, I promise you that. It was for a good cause,” Lazio said.
“He told us to hold our heads up high,” said Megan Romigh, a sophomore at Barnard College who campaigned for Lazio.
“He really amassed a great following with his integrity and his ideals,” she said, but “he was the underdog coming in, and [victory] didn’t happen.”
The First Lady had held a comfortable eight percentage point lead coming in, according to a New York Times/CBS News Poll conducted within a week of Election Day. The margin she maintained over Lazio was nine points when a similar poll was taken in September.
On several issues during the campaign, Clinton shared the spotlight with Lazio, rendering him unable to gain momentum in the short contest. Last month for instance, he banned soft money from his campaign, but when Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) offered congratulations to candidates supporting campaign finance reform, Clinton’s name came up along with Lazio’s.
Then while President Clinton honored the First Lady publicly for her advocacy in breast and cervical cancer research, he only gave Lazio a quiet reception at the White House for his work.
“Hillary is a national figure. Some of the women I have spoken with in college say Hillary is a hero,” said Frank Lee, a freshman at Princeton University.
Lee himself, however, views Clinton in a much different light, fearing that she will only represent herself in Washington, not the people of New York or the country. He said he expected the Lazio campaign to stall on college campuses.
“A lot of students on the Democratic side are liberal,” Lee said. “But a lot on the Republican side are not [in the] Christian Coalition.”
Rather, he concluded, the Republican members of the student body prefer a more moderate candidate, such as Lazio.
Several out-of-state Lazio supporters, some who came upon the gathering yesterday while on business in New York, voiced their dissent not only of Clinton but of the state as well.
“New Yorkers have a high perception of themselves,” said Fred Mael, an independent voter from Maryland.
Proceeding to speculate that celebrities such as Barbara Streisand and Derek Jeter could have won the New York Senate race as Clinton did, Mael asserted that such a phenomenon would not take place in most other states across the country.
In the end, however, some Lazio supporters were hoping that a new name had emerged on the political scene.
“I think what really came out of this election is that Lazio put his name on the map,” said Eric Trager, the Queens County Teen Chair of the Lazio campaign.
“She [Clinton] had more time, she had the name [and] she had the White House,” Trager conceded. That was too daunting an obstacle for Lazio to overcome, Trager said.
“He’s such a wonderful candidate, so moderate, so well-liked. I hope to see him again [in another race],” said Sandra Capel, president of the Columbia University College Republicans.
Several Lazio supporters, however, continued to voice their opinion that Clinton is a “carpetbagger” and expressed concern that she would use the Senate seat only to further her political career.
“Hillary in [the] 2004 [presidential race]?” suggested a perplexed David Robinson, a freshman College Republican at Princeton University.
Archived article by Andrew Gelfand