White House in a New York state of mind

First lady talks politics with senator

president urges delay

February 20, 1999|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Hillary Rodham Clinton met yesterday with Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan at the White House to discuss a possible Senate bid by the first lady, a few hours before her husband cautioned that the momentum building around her potential run for Moynihan's seat in 2000 may be "a little premature."

In their 90-minute meeting, Moynihan, a New York Democrat who will retire next year, brought to the White House a synopsis of his four Senate races, including statistics reflecting the unpredictability of New York voters.

But even as the first lady and a top political adviser explore the idea of a Senate run with campaign consultants and national labor leaders, President Clinton sounded a cautionary note yesterday.

At a news conference, Clinton pledged his support for the first lady, "just as she's helped me for the last 20-plus years." But he warned against stoking the campaign fires too vigorously, too soon.

"I think some time needs to be taken here," Clinton said. "I also think that even in a presidential race, it's hard to keep a kettle of water boiling for almost two years. It's a little premature, and I would like to see her take some time, get some rest, listen to people on both sides of the argument and decide exactly what you think is right to do."

The first lady's spokeswoman, Marsha Berry, said the meeting with Moynihan was purely exploratory.

"She wants to talk to people who have ideas and thoughts about it, and certainly Moynihan is one of them," Berry said. "She is a methodical person, and she will want tolook at all the different factors in making a decision like this."

Moynihan, who won the largest statewide victory in New York history in 1988 and is something of a godfather in New York politics, is an outspoken supporter of the first lady. On NBC's "Meet the Press" last Sunday, the four-term senator said he hoped that she would bring that "magnificent young, bright, able Illinois/Arkansas enthusiasm to New York, which probably could use a little."

Hillary Clinton said this week that she was giving "careful thought" to the race and would announce her decision later this year. But New York Democrats are urging her to decide by April so that another candidate can get an early start on fund raising should she decide against running. Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York City is expected to run hard for the seat for the Republicans and has already started raising money.

On CNN's "Inside Politics" yesterday, Giuliani sounded eager for a Senate race against a first lady -- which would be a first in American history.

"I think probably one of the things that pitches you a little bit more toward doing a thing like this is it would be a great challenge," Giuliani said. "You would be creating new ground. This has never happened before."

As pressure rises on Hillary Clinton to make a decision, Harold Ickes, her political adviser and a veteran of New York politics, floated the idea of the first lady's candidacy to several consultants who have had success in that state's bruising campaigns.

David Doak, a media consultant in David N. Dinkins' two New York City mayoral races, said he made clear to Ickes this week that he would want to sign on should the first lady run.

"I doubt there's anybody more suited to that kind of rough-and-tumble politics than her," said Doak, a campaign adviser with Doak, Carrier & O'Donnell and a friend of Hillary Clinton's for more than 20 years. Also, Doak said, the first lady can attract the money necessary in that state's hugely expensive campaigns.

"She brings an unbelievable ability to raise financial backing," he said.

Ickes attended the AFL-CIO's executive council meeting in Miami this week, talking with labor leaders about the first lady's prospects in a Senate campaign in New York.

Next week, Hillary Clinton will reportedly meet with several labor leaders, including AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. She is also expected at several New York appearances in coming months and is planning to meet next week with Sen. Robert G. Torricelli of New Jersey, who heads the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

For now, the first lady's possible candidacy is the talk of New York politics. Longtime New York political consultants say that should she decide not to run, Giuliani's position will be even stronger for her having tested the idea and then withdrawn.

"It's not going to be a cakewalk if it's Rudy Giuliani; it's not going to be an easy time -- he is a very, very good candidate -- he may be abrasive, but he's good," said David Garth, a veteran adviser who worked on Giuliani's first victorious mayoral campaign. "Obviously, if she doesn't run, she's helped Rudy immensely -- the obvious reason being that he must have driven her out."

Pub Date: 2/20/99

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