The Washington Post
Navigation Bar
Navigation Bar

Related Items
  • Political Junkie Archive

  • ScuttleButton, Ken's weekly puzzle

  • Ken Rudin biography

    Politics Columns:

  • Early Returns
  • State of Play
  • Money Talks

  • Campaigns section

    Political Junkie
    Send your questions about campaigns and elections.
    The GOP (Reluctantly) Unites To Stop Hillary

    By Ken Rudin
    Special to
    Friday, Aug. 13, 1999

    Question: With all the hoopla surrounding next year's New York Senate race, it seems its effect on the House has been overlooked. If either of GOP Reps. Rick Lazio or Peter King decides to leave the House for a run at the Senate, wouldn't their open seats be at least competitive or maybe even lean Democratic? With only a six-seat margin, shouldn't the GOP be begging these congressmen to stay put? – Evan Zachary, Jackson, Tenn.

    Answer: Your question came before Gov. George Pataki (R), who was thought to be pulling the strings behind the effort of Long Island Rep. Lazio, suddenly endorsed Mayor Rudy Giuliani as the Republicans' strongest candidate. Pataki's move prompted Lazio, who always said he wouldn't run if the governor told him not to, to put his bid on hold, pending a Giuliani entry into the race. But your question is a very important one, since the GOP holds only the most precarious margin in the House.

    The GOP got a big boost when it avoided a bloody N.Y. Senate primary. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
    GOP officials put tremendous pressure on Pataki to back Giuliani, for no other reason than Republicans want nothing more than to see Hillary Rodham Clinton defeated in her bid for the Senate, and they couldn't succeed with a fractious primary. Some national party leaders considered injecting themselves into the discussion, but they ultimately decided against it. All politics is local, as they say, but in this case all politics was personal – Pataki simply does not like Giuliani, who crossed party lines in 1994 to endorse Pataki's opponent, then-Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo. One rumor going around says that people close to Texas Gov. George W. Bush told Pataki he could kiss his vice-presidential aspirations goodbye if he was responsible for the Republicans losing this seat. In addition, Bush, should he become the party’s presidential nominee, would have an uphill (but not impossible) task trying to win New York, and the last thing he needed was the state's top Republicans to bash each other.

    But for all the pressure on Pataki to get Lazio out of the Senate race, the same kind of pressure wasn't put on Lazio to stay in the House, and that was surprising. House Democrats, led by Richard Gephardt, have worked diligently – and often successfully – to keep incumbents in leadership positions or marginal districts from leaving to seek higher office. Reps. Peter Deutsch (Fla.), Bill Luther (Minn.), Collin Peterson (Minn.), Robert Menendez (N.J.), Frank Pallone (N.J.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Ted Strickland (Ohio), Patrick Kennedy (R.I.), Jim McDermott (Wash.) and Adam Smith (Wash.), among others, all had Senate aspirations but all decided to stay in the House, partly because Gephardt personally intervened. Republicans have not been as fortunate. At least six GOP incumbents are sticking with their term-limits pledge and will retire, and three others are running for higher office. A good number of these seats could fall to the Dems. No House GOP official was willing or able to convince these Republicans to stay. New York’s Peter King is still mulling a Senate bid, though he likely won't do it. But had he and/or Lazio vacated their seats, Democrats would have had a shot at them as well.

    Question: What do you think the likelihood is of New York’s Conservative Party and the Right to Life Party endorsing Giuliani? – Stephen Schatz, Queens, N.Y.

    Answer: Not sure and none – certainly none as far as the Right to Life Party goes; Giuliani supports abortion rights. While several of New York's minor parties have historically chosen expediency over principle, the RTL Party would not be expected to sell out quite so brazenly. As for the Conservatives, word is that party chairman Michael Long is willing to meet with Giuliani for a possible endorsement. State Republicans from the party chairman on down are lobbying Long to give the mayor the nod. But Long clearly was leaning toward Rick Lazio. And he is hardly a fan of Giuliani, who almost assuredly will receive the endorsement of the state's Liberal Party.

    Question: Why aren't we hearing more outrage by feminists about Hillary Clinton's behavior in accepting her husband's infidelity and outright emotional abuse? She continually expounds her feminist ideals both here and abroad and yet her behavior flies in the face of these beliefs. – Elaine Barzen, Las Vegas, Nev.

    Answer: There is no accounting for why some betrayed spouses stay and others leave. Apparently the first lady decided a long ago that her marriage was worth salvaging. Some say it was a political calculation, a pact with the devil; others say that despite it all, she truly loves her husband. Far be it for me to venture a guess as to why she stays or to measure how much emotional abuse she has taken. Not surprisingly, some of the reaction among feminists has fallen among predictably partisan lines: Republican feminists express outrage, Democratic feminists point to the President's pro-women's issues administration.

    Hillary Clinton has won the admiration of many feminists not because of how she deals with her husband's behavior but because of the causes she believes in and fights for. It is disappointing that after years of blaming the "vast right-wing conspiracy" for rumors about Mr. Bill's womanizing and not hesitating to call the other women liars, Hillary Clinton has almost casually acknowledged (in Talk magazine) his years of straying. But I'm not going to judge anyone who works to keep his or her marriage together, or question whether one who does so can be called a "feminist."

    Question: It seems everybody glosses over the unique circumstances in which carpetbaggers win in N.Y. In his successful run for the Senate in 1964, Robert Kennedy ran 300,000-plus votes behind Lyndon Johnson. – Doug Landau, Pocatello, Idaho

    LBJ's coattails in New York helped sweep in RFK to a Senate seat in 1964. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
    Answer: Actually, Kennedy ran over a million votes behind President Johnson in New York – 4.9 million for LBJ to 3.8 million for RFK. But you’re right; it’s too simplistic to say that just because Kennedy managed to win a Senate seat as a carpetbagger, there's no reason why Hillary Clinton cannot do the same. For one thing, Kennedy had Johnson's coattails and a sympathy vote (his brother's assassination in Dallas was just a year earlier), while GOP Sen. Kenneth Keating was weighed down by Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater. But the time between Bobby Kennedy’s entry in the race and the 1964 general election was only two months. We're talking 15 months in advance this time. By November of 2000, I wouldn't count out the ability of Clinton, the lifelong Yankee fan, to nullify the carpetbagger issue.

    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

    Back to the top

    Navigation Bar
    Navigation Bar