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  •   First Lady Weighs Senate Campaign

    Hillary Rodham Clinton arrives at the opening ceremony of the NATO anniversary summit Friday. (Bill O'Leary — The Post)
    By Michael Grunwald
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Saturday, April 24, 1999; Page A3

    BUFFALO, April 23 In the beginning, the question was whether she even wanted the job. But Hillary Rodham Clinton has begun telling Democrats that she would love to run for Senate in New York, that the Senate would be an ideal perch for her to advance her pet issues, that she is willing to buckle down and do the work it would take to win election.

    Several sources close to Clinton said they believe the odds of her entering the race are rapidly increasing and that the first family has decided to move to New York no matter what. But don't start buying tickets to the spectacle just yet. Clinton apparently decided after her recent trip to North Africa that she would like the job, but she still hasn't decided whether to apply. First, she's grappling with a new question: How on earth would this work?

    Specifically, how would she run an all-out campaign in New York while serving as first lady in Washington? How would she get enough face time with voters in Utica and Binghamton when she has to visit Albania and Littleton? Would she move to New York as soon as she enters the race, sparking inevitable rumors about the state of her marriage, or would she stay in the White House, reinforcing her image as a carpetbagger?

    "It's very obvious to me that she wants to run and she wants to win and she wants to serve," said Buffalo Mayor Anthony Masiello, who met with Clinton here Thursday night, before she gave a speech to a teachers union. "She just sounds exuberant about the challenge. The only question is how does a first lady do it."

    It's a question no one has ever tried to answer, and Clinton raised it several times during her meeting Thursday night with Masiello, Rep. John LaFalce, Deputy Assembly Speaker Arthur Eve and Erie County Democratic Chairman Steven Pigeon. She told the four Democrats that she is excited about representing New York but that she wouldn't want to run a halfhearted celebrity campaign for retiring Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan's seat.

    Still, Clinton is clearly stepping up her decision process. She was in New York three days this week; she will return next week for the state Democratic dinner in Manhattan, and then again on May 7 for a labor conference in Buffalo. One new statewide poll has her neck-and-neck in a potential race with New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani (R); another gives her a modest lead.

    "She wants to do this in the worst way," Pigeon said. "If she can figure out a way to work out the logistics, to run a 100 percent race while maintaining some semblance of her official duties, I think she's in. But that's still a big 'if.' "

    Over the last week, leading Democrats, including state Comptroller Carl McCall and Rep. Carolyn Maloney, have predicted for the first time that Clinton will run. At the same time, though, some Democrats are grumbling that if she doesn't run, she will leave the party in shambles for 2000. Rep. Nita M. Lowey of Westchester is waiting in the wings in case Clinton drops out, but she can't really raise money or seek support as long as the first lady is undecided.

    "If she decides that she's not going to do it, I think you're going to hear that pretty soon," said one close adviser to Clinton. "If you don't hear anything by the end of next month, I think she's basically in unless she gets hit by a boulder."

    Still, it seems almost too bizarre to be true, and even this close adviser acknowledged that Clinton probably wakes up some mornings and decides the idea is "totally nutty." She and her husband just endured a torturous impeachment process. He happens to be leading an international war effort these days. And she has never even lived in New York.

    "She'd like to do it, no question, but it's not a slam-dunk," LaFalce said. "It depends whether she decides she can run whole hog and still discharge her duties. It would be something else, wouldn't it?"

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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