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    Send your questions about campaigns and elections.
    The Empire State
    Strikes Back

    By Ken Rudin
    Special to
    Friday, May 28, 1999

    Question: Being on this side of the Pacific makes gauging the public mood in the U.S. tough, but ... why on Earth would Hillary Clinton be favored over Mayor Giuliani in a Senate race? He is one of the few politicians who seems to have actually put his ideas into implementation -- and they worked! He's fairly popular in the (liberal) city, and would have to be favored over Mrs. Clinton in (more Republican) New York State? Wouldn't she have to get a 90-10 percent win in the city to outweigh the state's voting patterns? – Zachary Emig, Yokohama, Japan

    A race between Giuliani and Clinton, two flawed candidates, could become a political junkie's dream in 2000.
    (Collection of Ken Rudin)
    Answer: Giuliani has gotten the credit, rightly or wrongly, for accomplishing what many thought to be impossible -- making New York City appear manageable. Crime is way down, and the streets are cleaner. 42nd Street has gone from pimps and prostitutes to Goofy and Pluto. And voters were satisfied: In 1997, Giuliani was easily returned to office, the first Republican mayor of the Big Apple to win reelection since Fiorello LaGuardia.

    But this year Hizzoner's numbers have plummeted, mostly as a result of two terrible incidents of police behavior -- the seemingly senseless 41 bullets pumped into the body of Amadou Diallo, and the brutal assault on Abner Louima in the restroom of a Brooklyn police station. And so the tough-on-crime issue, which the pro-police Giuliani has long used to his benefit, may have backfired. The black and Latino community, never overly fond of Giuilani to begin with, has effectively declared war against the mayor. A recent Marist Institute poll showed Giuliani and Clinton running essentially even statewide but with Giuliani trailing the first lady by more than 2-1 in the city.

    The mayor has other problems. His relationship with Gov. George Pataki, a fellow Republican, is virtually non-existent. In fact, Giuliani may face primary opposition from Long Island Rep. Rick Lazio, who is said to be cozy with Pataki. While there is no guarantee Lazio would win the nomination, he could wind up as the nominee of the state's Conservative Party -- and essentially split the GOP vote in the general election.

    But Clinton has her own concerns as well. Will the famously combative New York media get her to explain the $100,000 profit she made in cattle futures or her calling for a Palestinian state? And while she has played First Victim to rave reviews across the nation, it remains to be seen whether it can be parlayed into a campaign plus. Hillary's defenders say that the "carpetbagger" issue is ridiculous, that New Yorkers will welcome her into the state as they did Robert Kennedy in his 1964 Senate bid. And, as with Bobby, there will be a widespread feeling of sympathy. But there is a major difference between Kennedy, who was, after all, the brother of a recently assassinated president, and Clinton, who blamed everyone for the Monica Lewinsky mess except her husband.

    I've argued in previous columns that Hillary Clinton will ultimately not make the race (see the Feb. 5 column), but that has become a decidedly minority position. There seems to be little doubt, judging from recent news reports, that she wants to do it, and indeed plans to make the run. An announcement of an exploratory committee is expected by late June.

    Question: Your column of May 7 regarding the late Sen. Clare Engle (D-Calif.) prompted this note. In 1964, I worked as a summer news broadcaster at WCHB-AM in Detroit. I still have the teletype from UPI describing the scene in the Senate when Engle was wheeled onto the floor, barely able to talk, dying from a brain tumor, but still able to sit up from his stretcher and vote AYE to break the filibuster on the 1964 Civil Rights Bill, which was later passed on July 2, 1964. If I recall correctly, this vote to break the filibuster was his last appearance in the Senate. – Ray Reynolds Graves, Farmington Hills, Mich.

    Answer: The beating back of the filibuster was indeed a dramatic moment. It was the first time in history the Senate voted for cloture (the cutting off of debate) on a civil rights bill. Engle was in such bad shape that he couldn't even speak on that June day, and in fact voted for cloture by motioning with his hand. By the way, for those who may have forgotten, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) led the filibuster, and Sen. Albert Gore (D-Tenn.) voted against ending debate. And both voted against final passage.

    Post Script: More on the continuing saga of what to call the Louisiana's unique election system, in which all candidates run on the same ballot, regardless of party (see the last item in the May 21 column). I had called it "jungle primary" in an earlier column, which turned out to be quite controversial. Many e-mails came in on the subject, all expressing strong opinions. One writer suggested calling it a "blanket primary," and I thought that sounded like a good definition.

    Mark Barabak, a political writer for the Los Angeles Times, commiserated with my dilemma. The Times also refers to California's system as a "blanket primary," but Mark notes that "it sure didn't help matters" that the March 1996 ballot measure that created the state's primary system was called the "open primary initiative."

    Carol Ulrich of Reston, Va., offered this alternative: "How about 'rain-forest primary?' I'm sure someone could carry this to a planet-saving, politically correct, analogous extreme. And only the vast right-wing conspirators could take offense -- about whom, who cares?"

    David Kensinger writes, "In honor of professional wrestlers in politics, why not 'Battle Royale?' That's when all wrestlers are put in the ring at the same time to fend for themselves -- the last one standing wins. It's unique, unobjectionable and it fits."

    Daniel Murphy suggested the following: "What about 'gumbo' primary since it's usually spicy and everyone and everything is in it?"

    The ultimate answer comes from Fred Slocum, an assistant professor of political science at Minnesota State University at Mankato, who writes that there are actually four types of primaries: blanket primaries, open primaries, closed primaries and nonpartisan primaries (the term he uses for the Louisiana system). Here is how Professor Slocum distinguishes each system:

      "The BLANKET PRIMARY is used only in Alaska and Washington. Each voter receives ballots with candidates for all offices, all parties, and voters can vote for one candidate for any office. In the blanket primary, unlike the open primary, voters can vote in a different party's primary for each office. For example, voters can vote in the Republican primary for Senate and the Democratic primary for House.

      "In the OPEN PRIMARY, voters select a party on election day and can vote only in that party's primary for ALL offices -- no crossing over from office to office.

      "In the CLOSED PRIMARY, used in most states, voters can vote only in the primary for the party declared at the time they registered to vote -- in most states, well in advance of primary election day.

      "Louisiana's primary system, called a NONPARTISAN PRIMARY, differs from a blanket primary in two important ways. First, the blanket-primary system advances two opposing candidates, a Democrat and a Republican, to the general election. In Louisiana's nonpartisan-primary system, it's possible to have a Democrat vs. Democrat match-up, or Republican vs. Republican match-up, in the general election. In the 1987 governor's race, two Democrats, Edwin Edwards and Buddy Roemer, faced each other in the general election. Second, Louisiana uses a majority-rule runoff system, where other states use plurality-rule systems. In Louisiana, any candidate who receives a simple majority of all votes cast in the primary is elected, and there is no general election for that office. More commonly, however, no candidate receives a simple majority, in which case the top two vote-getters, REGARDLESS OF PARTY (Democrat, Republican, Martian or whatever!), face each other in the runoff (the general election). In other states, the plurality-rule system dictates that the candidate with the most votes (even if less than an absolute majority) wins that party's primary and advances to represent that party in the general election."

    Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin:

    Ken Rudin, political editor at National Public Radio, is also the creator of's ScuttleButton contest.

    © Copyright 1999 Ken Rudin

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