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  • Campaign '98

  •   NEW YORK
    Schumer, D'Amato Already on Attack

    New York
    By Blaine Harden
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, September 17, 1998; Page A12

    NEW YORK, Sept. 16 — Put on your helmets and flak jackets, the potshots have already begun to fly.

    Rep. Charles E. Schumer, having crushed former vice presidential nominee Geraldine A. Ferraro in Tuesday's Senate Democratic primary, did not wait until lunch today before he took aim at three-term Republican Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato and began saying hurtful things:

    "He can't run a positive campaign because no one believes him. Look at the TV ads he has run and is running. Isn't it pathetic that after 18 years as a senator he can't put his face or his voice on his own TV commercials?"

    To which D'Amato's campaign apparatus immediately replied: "It's sad that Chuck Schumer has already been reduced to engaging in . . . negative personal attacks."

    Sadness, though, did not prevent D'Amato from tarring Schumer today as "an old-style liberal who can't hide from his record of voting for higher taxes, more welfare and less jail time for violent criminals."

    Even before Schumer won the primary, D'Amato went negative. A direct-mail campaign that began over the weekend accused the longtime Brooklyn congressman of being "wrong for us" because he favors high gas prices and coddles rapists.

    So it begins, a seven-week general election slugfest between two hyper-aggressive politicians with millions of campaign dollars still in the bank, profoundly different records on issues from abortion to education to gun control and highly polished skills in using the media to make themselves look noble and their opponents look contemptible.

    Polls show that Schumer, 47, who spent $8 million on TV ads that brought him from way behind to a surprisingly easy victory over the better-known Ferraro, has moved to well within striking distance of the incumbent who likes to call himself "Senator Pothole." More than 23 percentage points behind D'Amato in June, Schumer this month has climbed to within 9 points in a head-to-head race, according to the Zogby Poll.

    In a fiery acceptance speech Tuesday night, Schumer, an 18-year veteran of the House who has never lost an election in his life, wasted no time in explaining how he intends to defeat D'Amato, 61. He attacked the senator for opposing gun control, opposing a woman's right to an abortion, for being a pal of House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and for being an ethically challenged politician who makes New Yorkers "ashamed."

    "Al D'Amato has been in the Senate for too long. You can't trust him. And New Yorkers deserve a senator they can be proud of," Schumer said Tuesday night and repeated today in what is going to be the mantra of his campaign.

    Schumer comes out of the primary with two crucial advantages over previous Democrats who've tried and failed to beat D'Amato, who is perennially vulnerable in this state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 3 to 1.

    First, Schumer has money left in his campaign war chest – about $4.5 million – and the ability to raise more. Like D'Amato, who is chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Schumer has contacts where the money is – with Wall Street securities firms and major banks. Schumer is a senior member of the House Banking Committee and has collected about one-quarter of his campaign's $13 million from interests with business before that committee.

    Second, Schumer is emerging from an uncharacteristically polite primary, during which none of the three contenders engaged in personal attacks. At a "Unity Breakfast" this morning, Schumer was joined by his defeated rivals, Ferraro and New York City Public Advocate Mark Green, who pledged to support his campaign. By contrast, after losing in the 1992 primary, Ferraro refused for weeks to endorse winner Robert Abrams, who faced D'Amato with a divided party and little money to buy TV ads.

    Money for TV is what propelled Schumer out of obscurity this summer and set up his primary victory. But from now on he no longer has the deepest pockets. D'Amato, having already spent upwards of $10 million on television commercials, still has about $10 million left – more than twice as much cash on hand as Schumer.

    D'Amato hit the airwaves today with a flashy commercial that features New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, a Republican, and former mayor Edward I. Koch, a Democrat, arguing with each other about why D'Amato is "the best senator New York ever had."

    The "Two Mayors" ad comes on the heels of near-saturation TV buys by D'Amato that feature emotional testimonials from beneficiaries of his two high-profile and vote-friendly crusades: pressuring Swiss banks to compensate Jewish American survivors of the Holocaust and pressing the federal government to spend more money on breast cancer research. New York state has about four times more Jews than Jerusalem, and breast cancer rates in the suburbs of Long Island are the highest in the country.

    Schumer's campaign advisers said they are ready with their own TV commercials and will begin buying air time this week. Asked how he plans to counter D'Amato's success in appealing to Jewish voters, Schumer said today that he will fight "just as hard on Jewish issues," but will remind Jewish voters that "we are Americans first and foremost and Al D'Amato makes us ashamed as Americans."

    In the other major primary in New York, New York City Council Speaker Peter F. Vallone easily defeated three candidates for the Democratic nomination to face Gov. George E. Pataki (R). He won more than twice as many votes as his closest challenger, Lt. Gov. Elizabeth "Betsy" McCaughey Ross.

    She had begun the primary campaign as the front-runner, a status that derived from the wealth of her millionaire husband, financier Wilbur L. Ross. When her campaign began, McCaughey Ross said her husband would bankroll it with $10 million. But early this month, she acknowledged that he had taken back about half of the $4 million he had given. McCaughey Ross vowed to continue running for governor as a candidate of the Liberal Party.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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