N.Y. Democrat steps aside for Clinton Senate run

Lowey won't seek seat

first lady confers with Carville at White House

June 04, 1999|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- With Hillary Rodham Clinton inching closer to a Senate campaign in New York, a Democratic congresswoman who had been pondering her own race for the seat telephoned the first lady yesterday to say she would not run.

"It has become increasingly clear that the first lady will run for the Senate," the congresswoman, Rep. Nita M. Lowey, said in a statement. She urged New York voters to support "the first lady's exciting and historic candidacy" for the Senate next year.

Shortly after that phone call, a report quoted Clinton's top political adviser, Harold Ickes, as saying that the first lady would announce an exploratory committee in early July -- the most definitive indication yet of a Clinton candidacy. Later in the day, Ickes and other Clinton strategists amended that remark, saying that the first lady had not yet committed herself to an exploratory committee.

`Next logical step'

"Mrs. Clinton is going to press forward as she has been in the past," Ickes said. "She has not made a decision to form an exploratory committee at this point, but it would be a next logical step."

Lowey's decision yesterday, and the statements of Clinton advisers, pointed more clearly than ever to a Senate race by the first lady. One Clinton adviser said yesterday that the first lady is likely to form an exploratory committee this summer.

In her phone conversation with Lowey, Ickes said, Clinton did not say whether she planned to run. After the conversation, in which Lowey was described as doing most of the talking, Clinton said in a statement: "I thank Nita for her support, and I look forward to working with her."

While ditching a Senate bid, Lowey will still run for re-election to the House from New York.

In another sign of Clinton's seriousness about a Senate race, she summoned James Carville, President Clinton's longtime campaign consultant, to the White House yesterday for a discussion that included talk about a candidacy.

"I thought before I saw her that she is going to run," Carville said. "And I thought after I saw her that she is going to run."

Giuliani responds

New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, the leading Republican candidate for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, offered a dry retort to yesterday's developments.

"We are confident that the next senator from New York will be one who actually lives in the state," said a Giuliani spokeswoman, Brenda Perez.

If Clinton does create an exploratory committee, she would further commit the state's Democratic Party to her candidacy. With such a committee, she could begin a fund-raising drive for a campaign that would likely cost at least $15 million. Under campaign finance rules, Clinton would reimburse the government for any campaign-related travel costs paid by the White House.

Pressure to decide

Already, time is ticking away. Some New York strategists say candidates must begin fund-raising by July to put up a credible Senate campaign.

"If at some point she decides not to run, there are going to be a lot of angry politicians in the state of New York," said Steve Cohen, the vice dean of the school of international and foreign affairs at Columbia University.

Clinton advisers say the first lady understands that if she backs out after creating an exploratory committee, the Republicans could walk away with the election.

"With the announcement of an exploratory committee," said one New York Democratic strategist, "that says there's no turning back now."

To Giuliani, who is already raising money for the race, the campaign seems to be in full swing. He continues to lob zingers at Clinton.

On a New York radio station this week, Giuliani hammered the first lady as a carpetbagger -- and treated her like an announced candidate.

"It would be like my going to Arkansas and announcing I was going to run for the Senate," he said when asked about her possible run. "Maybe I'll take a vacation there first."

Pub Date: 6/04/99

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