In just a few tumultuous days, the stage for a titanic battle for
New York's Senate seat - one of the only hot tickets in a rather
drab political season - has been completely reset. With new
characters and a new set of political dynamics, come untold
questions about how the plot will play out.
The only thing it proves, say the pundits, is that there's
nothing predictable about politics.
But Rudolph Giuliani's exit from the race may pose a different
set of challenges for the Democratic contender.
"The race suddenly becomes about Hillary [Rodham] Clinton," says
Republican analyst Jay Severin. "Deprived of someone else's baggage,
she's now got to talk about genuine particulars."
Her new opponent is expected to be Rick Lazio, a Long Island
congressman who many say lacks the gritty audacity of New York's
Mrs. Clinton, for her part, says the race will now be about
issues, and not personalities. "This will be a race of clear
contrasts, because we've got very different stands on education,
healthcare, the future of the economy, and issues concerning
children and the elderly," she says.
At the same time, Democratic operatives were cheerfully
discussing the congressman's "Gingrich-like" voting record, a
reference to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
New actor takes the stage
But Mr. Lazio, who characterizes himself as a moderate
Republican, signaled he was ready for the fight. At his old high
school gym in Islip, N.Y., a sure symbol of his local roots, Lazio
assailed Clinton as overly ambitious and too "far left."
"She is no more a New Democrat than she is a New Yorker," he told
a crowd of cheering supporters who had been waiting for this
announcement since last summer, when Lazio bowed out of the race in
deference to Mayor Giuliani's greater name recognition and perceived
Lazio signaled he'd make Clinton's "ambition" a top issue in the
new battle. And while the race has lost much of its operatic drama
with the departure of the once larger-than-life mayor, it is likely
to retain the national stage. It is, after all, the first time a
first lady has run for office, and then there is the national
emotion, good and bad, connected with anyone with the name Clinton.
But the unpredictable nature of the new race is also expected to
keep the audience's attention. People will be watching to see if
the boyish-looking, four-term congressman has the mettle to take on
Clinton, who's spent the past year visiting every county in the