New Clinton foe comes out swinging

Long Island Republican calls first lady `far-left' as he starts Senate bid


NEW YORK - Rep. Rick A. Lazio of Long Island came roaring into the race for senator from New York yesterday, attacking Hillary Rodham Clinton as a "far-left, extremist" candidate who has "no real rationale for serving here other than as a steppingstone to some other position."

"I think her ambition is the issue," Lazio declared in an interview, as he formally announced his candidacy in a race that has been upended by the decision of Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani to step aside for health reasons.

Lazio's remarks came as Republican leaders in New York and Washington lined up behind the candidacy of the Suffolk County Republican, who had suspended his campaign last year in deference to party leaders who wanted Giuliani as their candidate.

Lazio announced a two-day trip around the state, an aggressive come-out-of-the-box approach intended to discourage other Republicans who might be thinking about challenging him, as well as to push the Conservative Party into lining up behind his candidacy.

The tenor of Lazio's comments - he repeatedly criticized Clinton's credentials and ideology - suggested that the campaign, with the change in candidate, was going to be harsh and fast-paced.

Clinton's advisers have begun to attack Lazio as extreme and conservative, noting that he had supported many of the initiatives of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, as they tried to discredit his candidacy.

Clinton's press secretary, Howard Wolfson, responded to Lazio's comments yesterday morning, saying: "It sounds like the same old negative attack politics. He hasn't even formally announced, and already he's on the attack."

Lazio said he considered himself "a centrist, a mainstream Republican." "We're conservative, right-of-center on budget and tax issues, national security issues," he said. "And I think we're realistic on social issues."

He described his Democratic opponent as "far left," adding: "She's part of the discredited philosophy that helped lead New York to ruin during the Cuomo years. I think we've turned the corner and we don't want to go back to those failed days."

In the interview, Lazio jumped at almost every opportunity to criticize Clinton. He responded vigorously when asked whether he would make an issue out of the fact that Clinton did not live in New York before this year, a subject that Giuliani frequently raised.

"I'm the real thing," he said. "I don't have to try to be someone else. I was born here. I went to school here. I fished in these waters. I clammed in its bays. I graduated from our schools. My children were born in New York state. I've lived here my whole life. There will be no question of my commitment to this state."

Lazio's announcement on Long Island came as his campaign sprang almost overnight into full life. Workers at his headquarters in Suffolk County answered the phone "Lazio 2000," early yesterday, and Lazio's Web site urged voters to contribute money.

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