By Ken Rudin
Question: Don't you agree that most of the criticism against Hillary Clinton running for senator comes from Republican pros who want her defeated? Marv Hoffman, Newington, Conn.
Answer: Republicans failed to defeat Bill Clinton in two presidential elections despite throwing everything they had at him. The GOP will now focus on his wife's bid for the Senate. Whitewater, the Rose Law Firm billing records, profits from cattle futures, Filegate, the health care fiasco nothing will be out of bounds. She, more so than presumptive presidential nominee Al Gore, is the one Democrat the Republicans want to defeat in 2000.
The media has been critical too. While many members of the press salivate over the prospect of a race between Clinton and New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R), there has been a simmering annoyance with the dance she has put everyone through regarding her candidacy. By late spring, even when she was interviewing prospective members of a campaign team and looking for a New York residence, the first lady was still claiming that she had not decided whether to run. As if we needed more Clintonian non-answer answers. If Congresswoman Nita Lowey hadn't finally announced that she was tired of it all and was dropping out of Senate speculation, thereby forcing Hillary's hand, this charade might still be going on.
For their part, Democrats profess complete adoration for the first lady. She is not a carpetbagger from Illinois or Arkansas or 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She is a Star. And New Yorkers love Stars. Her path to the Democratic nomination is a foregone conclusion; the same is not true for Giuliani on the GOP side (see my May 28 column), part of the reason why I think that, despite everything, she is going to win this thing.
Question: Robert Kennedy handily won the election to become a senator from New York despite certain critics labeling him a "carpetbagger." Now there is a possibility another well-known non-New Yorker may run for Senate in that state. What was it like for Kennedy to run as a "non-New Yorker" and what did some of the well-known journalists and pundits of that era have to say about his candidacy, compared to what they are saying about you-know-who today? Nicholas Thimmesch II, Washington, D.C.
Kennedy spent most of the year openly angling to be picked as President Lyndon Johnson's running mate. But Bobby treated Johnson with contempt throughout LBJ's time as Jack Kennedy's vice president, and Johnson was happy to return the favor after he succeeded to the presidency. There was no way he was going to put a Kennedy on the ticket.
His goal thwarted, Bobby then decided to run for the Senate. He couldn't run from his home state of Massachusetts not when the incumbent up in '64 was his brother Ted. And he wasn't going to run in Virginia, where he resided, especially not against the powerful Sen. Harry Byrd Sr., who at that time was still in complete control over Old Dominion politics. Bobby decided he would run in New York against Republican incumbent Kenneth Keating.
There was an assortment of reasons why liberals resented Kennedy's entry into the state. One, his candidacy was being pushed by Democratic bosses such as the Bronx's Charles Buckley and Brooklyn's Stanley Steingut, who were anathema to the reform movement. Two, they remembered how badly Kennedy treated those who got in his brother Jack's way during the 1960 presidential campaign. Three, Kennedy came into the state without consulting with the de facto leader of the party, New York City Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr. And four, many liberals were hoping against hope that their hero, Adlai Stevenson, would make the run.
Aside from the liberal New York Post and the (Hearst) Journal American, most newspapers opposed RFK's bid. The Herald Tribune railed against "Kennedy colonization." The Times didn't question Bobby's right to run, but it did wonder what he knew about the state's problems. Bobby "apparently needs New York," the paper editorialized. "But does New York really need Bobby Kennedy?"
Kennedy easily brushed aside his only opposition to the Democratic nomination, Rep. Sam Stratton. But some liberals continued to stay away. Playwright Gore Vidal, actor Paul Newman, Nation editor Carey McWilliams, TV personality David Susskind, even historian Arthur Schlesinger Sr., all argued that Kennedy was masquerading as a liberal and they wanted no part of him. They formed "Democrats for Keating."
For his part, Keating offered to furnish Kennedy a guidebook and roadmap to help Bobby get "acquainted" with New York. Just last week, officials of the Republican National Committee made the same overture to Hillary Clinton.
Answer: Many claim Jim Buckley, the New York senator from 1971 to 1976, was actually from Connecticut. Although he spent most of his pre-Senate years there, Buckley had New York roots, having been born in New York City. When the Conservative Party drafted him to run for the Senate in 1970 he ran as a Manhattan businessman. That kept him from having to perform the geographical gymnastics that Kennedy went through when he leased a Long Island home in 1964, or that Clinton is going through now as she tries to convince New Yorkers she is one of them.
Jim Buckley is the brother of columnist William F. (Bill) Buckley Jr., the publisher of National Review. In 1965, Jim managed the campaign of Bill, who was the Conservative Party nominee for mayor of New York City. Conservatives tried to get Bill to run for the Senate on their party line in 1968, when liberal Republican Sen. Jacob Javits was seeking his third term. When Bill said no, the party drafted Jim, who despite finishing third in the race went on to capture over a million votes, a record for the Conservatives.
By the time of the 1970 Senate race, the number-one conservative target was Charles Goodell, a Republican who was appointed by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller to fill the seat left vacant following the assassination of Robert Kennedy. As a congressman from upstate Jamestown, Goodell was a moderate conservative. But following his appointment to the Senate, he changed course. He became a leading voice in the anti-Vietnam War movement and a harsh critic of President Nixon. Vice President Spiro Agnew spent the campaign railing against Goodell at every opportunity, at one point calling him a "radical liberal." Once again, the Conservatives offered their nomination to Jim Buckley, who ran as a pro-Nixon, pro-"Silent Majority" candidate. Unlike his effort in 1968, this was a serious, well-financed campaign that garnered the endorsements from many mainstream Republicans and a fair number of Democrats. It was no secret that the White House would rather see Jim Buckley win than Republican nominee Goodell.
The White House got its wish. Buckley won a major upset that year, as liberals split their vote between Goodell and the Democratic nominee, Rep. Dick Ottinger.
Six years later Buckley lost his bid for re-election to Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D). In 1979, he moved back to Connecticut with the goal of running for the Senate in 1980. Seeking the GOP nomination that year, Buckley insisted he never severed his ties to the Nutmeg State and boasted that this was the first time his wife, who never changed her voting registration, would be able to vote for him. This time Buckley's Connecticut roots were challenged, and he was trounced in November by Chris Dodd (D), who was reelected to a fourth term last year.
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© Copyright 1999 Ken Rudin