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Washington Journal: Hillary Clinton Makes History With Senate Run

  • Frank Csongos

Washington, 9 July 1999 (RFE/RL) - Hillary Rodham Clinton has begun raising money for a U.S. Senate campaign to represent the state of New York, the first time a spouse of an American president ever to seek a Senate seat.

Clinton, wife of two-term Democratic President Bill Clinton, will officially become a candidate after making a formal declaration. That is widely expected in the coming months. She already filed the necessary documents this week with the Federal Election Commission to form a committee enabling her to raise funds for the Senate campaign. It will take several million dollars to wage a successful effort.

The Senate elections are in November 2000. The new senator, whose term runs for six years, will take the seat of retiring Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

The Senate has 100 members, two from each state. Its primary responsibilities are to advise the president of the United States on domestic and foreign policy matters, including approving treaties and senior level government nominees, and to pass legislation along with the U.S. House of Representatives.

In her Senate race, Hillary Clinton is not expected to face serious challenge within the Democratic Party. On the Republican side, however, it is a different story. New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has already formed a Senate exploratory committee and has raised 3 million dollars toward the campaign. He is considered to be a strong candidate.

The first lady - as the wife of an American president is commonly referred to -- visited Moynihan on his farm in upstate New York on Wednesday to explain some of her positions and ask questions of the state's citizens.

She said: "Now, I suppose the question on everyone's mind is, why the Senate, and why New York, and why me? And all I can say is that I care deeply about the issues that are important in this state that I've already been learning about and hearing about. That I am very much concerned that we work together to try to find answers to the challenges that face New York and the people of New York. And I'm going to be listening very hard and I'm going to be learning a lot."

Signs of her possible New York Senate campaign started to emerge months ago when former White House aide Harold Ickes, a seasoned New York operative, became her chief political adviser. Mandy Grunwald, President Clinton's media adviser in 1992 and a veteran of three Moynihan Senate campaigns, also was invited to Hillary Clinton's inner circle.

Gerald Benjamin, a dean at the State University of New York who is a Republican, says Hillary Clinton will be a formidable candidate.

Benjamin says: "She is an icon in New York. She transcends ordinary politics." He compared her to Robert F. Kennedy, another out-of-stater who was elected to the Senate in 1964.

When Kennedy -- brother of President John F. Kennedy -- was seeking the New York Senate seat, the question often came up why a politician who is not from New York should seek office there. Also, New Yorkers had suspected Robert Kennedy would use the Senate position as a springboard for seeking the presidency.

Robert Kennedy was assassinated in 1968 in Los Angeles the night he won the California primary for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Hillary Clinton has lived in the White House for more than six years. Before that, she resided in the southern state of Arkansas, where Bill Clinton served as governor.

Hillary Clinton said Wednesday: "I'm going to be looking for ways to work together with people to help figure out how to meet those challenges of providing quality education, maybe not any longer in a one-room schoolhouse but in the various settings that exist around the state of New York. And providing good, quality, affordable health care, and making sure that the crown jewels of the health care system -- namely, the teaching hospitals -- are able to continue doing the work that is so important to all of us. And making sure that the economy is built in a way that creates good jobs in every region of the state of New York. And continuing the fight that the senator has championed to ensure that New York gets its fair share from Washington."

Political observers say the race for the New York Senate seat will be bruising. In fact, veteran newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin, a well-known and widely respected observer of the New York political scene - predicts flatly that Hillary Clinton will lose.

Says Breslin: "She's allowed to run. Residency doesn't matter. In New York everybody comes from someplace else." Still, Breslin says, personally he cannot vote for her because of allegations of wrongdoing probed during the Whitewater investigation, which began with a probe into a failed real estate deal involving the Clintons. Although the investigation by an independent prosecutor did not result in any charges being brought against Hillary Clinton, the president was ultimately impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives for lying under oath in connection with an unrelated sex scandal. He was not convicted of any charges by the U.S. Senate and is allowed to serve out his second term.

Hillary Clinton says she wants to look ahead.

"I've been a tireless advocate all my life on behalf of what I believe in, and I believe that the causes that are embodied in the political deliberations that the United States Senate will be facing in the future are ones that are very important. You know, the Senate when it's at its best is really there to represent what the people need and how best that it should be accommodated. So I would be, if I run and am honored to be elected, a strong and effective advocate on behalf of the people of New York."

One thing that may be going for Hillary Clinton is that New York has 1.9 million more registered Democrats than Republicans.

Then again, observers say the question of being an outsider politician -- called a "carpet bagger" -- may do her more harm than good.

The phrase "carpet bagger," according to Webster's New World College Dictionary, goes back to the 1860s. It refers to any of the Northern politicians or adventurers who went South to take advantage of unsettled conditions of the American Civil War. It was a contemptuous phrase, referring to the luggage used in traveling light.