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Today, It's New York: Tomorrow, Oval Office?

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By Michael Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 28, 2006

NEW YORK -- They sally forth one after another, this parade of presidential candidates from New York.

Some go by a single instantly identifiable name: Hillary! Rudy! Others require fuller identification: Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a Democrat-turned-Republican who is weighing a presidential run as an independent, and former governor George E. Pataki (R).

New York may not challenge Virginia for its title as "Mother of Presidents," but the state could produce four presidential candidates in 2008 -- not to mention new Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer (D), who has harbored presidential dreams since he was in fourth grade and is already rumored to have an eye on 2012.

New York's ascendancy could reflect a change in the national temperature. The South, after dominating politics for 30 years, has maybe played out, at least for Democrats. In 2000, Al Gore did not take Tennessee, where he built his political career, and John Edwards could not carry North Carolina in 2004. The Northeast turned nearly solid blue in last month's midterm elections and, if taken together with Pennsylvania and Ohio, perhaps the Northeast is ready for a comeback as an electoral linchpin.

"At least on an hallucinogenic level, we have four presidential candidates," said Douglas Muzzio, a political scientist at the City University of New York's Baruch College. "I don't think Pataki and Bloomberg are really serious, but it reflects the changing fortunes of the city. After 9/11, there's a lot of interest and sympathy for our candidates."

It's a curious turnabout for a state and a city often seen as located offshore from the North American continent. Americans have long had a love-loathe relationship with New York, flocking here as tourists even as most insist they could never, ever live in such a cacophonous joint. New Yorkers respond in kind, secure in their conceit that anyone with any sense lives here already.

This mutual disdain held until the 1970s. As the city teetered on the edge of bankruptcy and arson fires roared, the city gained a reputation as a dangerous citadel of sclerotic liberalism. Former mayor John V. Lindsay ran in the Democratic primary for president and lasted but a few weeks.

The New York pol became a forlorn character on the national stage.

"The last time they loved us was when Martin Van Buren was elected, and he ran as a Whig," says Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic political consultant born, raised and based in New York. "Welcome to post-9/11 New York, where the cachet is back and we're no longer seen as a bastion of left-wing insanity."

In fact, New York once produced a line of presidents, from Van Buren to Chester A. Arthur and Grover Cleveland to Theodore Roosevelt and his distant cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was elected four times. But it has been nearly 60 years since the state produced a presidential finalist, Republican Thomas E. Dewey in 1948.

The current crop offers two larger-than-life political personalities: Rudolph W. Giuliani, the crime-fighting, Manhattan-living Republican former mayor, and Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former first lady and the inhabitant of a New York City suburb. Bloomberg is a municipal Croesus with a pile of money so vast -- estimates of his personal fortune start at $5 billion -- that he self-financed the most expensive mayoral campaigns in the nation's history, spending a combined $150 million.

Pataki, a politically centrist Republican from an Upstate city, served three terms as governor.


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