Hillary woos N.Y. voters on first-name basis

Election: The formerly three-named first lady faces off with another no-last-name-needed candidate: Rudy.

February 08, 2000|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Madonna did it. Elvis did it. Even Lamar did it.

And now Hillary has done it.

Not bothering with the "Clinton" -- or, for that matter, the "Rodham" -- the first lady is down to just one name. In a switch from her pre-campaign effort, when she was introduced to New Yorkers as a first lady with a three-part autograph, in her New York Senate campaign she is keeping her married name off campaign signage and out of her candidate P.R.

Is she loath to remind voters of hubby? Remaking herself as a suburban mom who shops the Grand Union in Chappaqua? Shedding the image of a first lady whose security detail ties up traffic?

None of the above, says the campaign. New Yorkers, it argues, vote on a first-name basis.

"This is New York," says spokeswoman Karen Dunn. "Everyone goes by their first name."

Over the weekend, this one-name woman launched her Senate effort with a spiffy new "Hillary for U.S. Senate" Web site. There is no mention of the name "Clinton" on the home page, and features include a "Hillary Quiz" and exhortations of "New Yorkers for Hillary. Click to Volunteer Today!"

The campaign also just launched its first radio advertisement, with Clinton urging "Join the New Yorkers for Hillary Team." There is no 1-800-CLINTON in this spot: Supporters are urged to call 1-888-HILLARY.

Any day now, New York voters will receive a campaign pamphlet -- "Hillary: The Real Story" -- that asks for donations while referring to the candidate as just plain "Hillary" 59 times in seven pages. Here, she is on a first-name basis even in promoting a hard-core political resume: "Hillary continued to build a pioneering legal career" ... "Hillary didn't throw in the towel after the health care defeat" and the like.

Of course, the first lady is running against another potential one-name wonder -- Rudy, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York City, her likely Republican opponent in this fall's Senate race.

Some New York Democrats believe it will be easier for Clinton to shed what some feel is her imperial image with a little you-already-know-me familiarity. For Giuliani, too, getting cozy could be key.

"We've got to get up close and personal -- we're in New York City," says Ester Fuchs, a political science professor at Columbia University and Barnard College. "These two both have similar problems here -- people perceive her as distant and cold, people perceive him as mean-spirited and a bully, so the way to deal with both of these things is to try to connect personally."

But to some observers, the candidate's dropping "Clinton" seems a little like a woman slipping off her wedding ring at a bar. After all, President Clinton is a polarizing figure -- a presence Giuliani can run against.

"The dynamic of that kind of sloganeering is to focus attention not on her past and the Clinton administration but on her and who she is," says Hank Sheinkopf, a New York Democratic consultant. "By calling her `Hillary,' it gives her the ability to become a New Yorker without any of the baggage attached."

Perhaps, but President Clinton still polls well in New York state -- he has a 38 percent favorable rating, compared with a 33 percent unfavorable rating in a Quinnipiac College poll -- and many New York observers do not believe Clinton can gain much by downplaying the White House in her persona, especially when the president is an unavoidable figure in the campaign.

"There's Clinton fatigue, no question about it, but there's also Clinton-Plus, at least in New York," said Maurice Carroll, who runs the Quinnipiac College Polling Institute.

"It's the best thing she's got going for her," says Kieran Mahoney, a Republican consultant. "It's not in her interest in this state to run away from her husband -- he won it by 30 points last time."

Running on a first-name-only basis is not a new idea. Lamar Alexander tried going as "Lamar!" to generate excitement for his 1996 presidential bid. It didn't work, and he dropped the exclamation point in his brief but failed repeat bid for the GOP nomination last year.

In this era of personal politics, candidates do what they must to snuggle up to voters. Clinton wants to be seen not just as an agent for democratic change -- following in the foot steps of her role model, Eleanor Roosevelt -- but something more warm and cuddly.

So goes the brainworks of the modern political campaign.

Who knows? Had she had the same political advisers, there might even have been an "Eleanor!"

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