Clinton Stumps for Schumer in Tight N.Y. Senate Race
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 31, 1998; Page A13
NEW YORK, Oct. 30 President Clinton darted into Queens and Brooklyn today for the sixth of what will be seven White House quick-strike missions to help a Democrat win one of the nation's closest and most costly Senate races.
Without mentioning Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato (R) by name, Clinton praised longtime Brooklyn Rep. Charles E. Schumer (D) as a legislator who has "more ability to turn ideals into action" than anyone in Congress.
The race here remains too close to call, although Schumer has nosed ahead of the three-term incumbent in the last week, according to several polls.
Polls suggest that D'Amato, partly as a result of a gaffe last week in which he called Schumer a "putzhead," has stumbled in the past week in the crucial suburbs of New York City and among Jewish voters.
D'Amato's principal campaign weapon TV attack ads highlighting the many House votes that Schumer missed this year while running for the Senate also backfired this week. News reports have detailed how D'Amato, when he was first running for the Senate in 1980, also missed a great many votes as a supervisor in Nassau County. In the wake of those reports, Schumer has gleefully bought TV ads asking, "Sen. D'Amato, after 18 years, when will the hypocrisy stop?"
Pollsters note, however, that D'Amato should never be counted out. He was 8 points down in 1992 at this stage of the race and eked out a 40,000-vote victory. "You have got to drive a stake through his heart to defeat him," said John Zogby, director of Zogby International, which is conducting a daily tracking poll of the race.
That poll had Schumer opening up a statistically meaningful lead at midweek, but Zogby said today that he is seeing signs of a comeback by D'Amato, who he said now trails Schumer in the suburbs by just 5 points, down from 10 points on Wednesday.
D'Amato today campaigned upstate, where about 40 percent of the electorate lives and where Zogby says the senator leads by 15 points, while Schumer remains an unknown to many voters.
Clinton's visit, his second of the campaign in Schumer's behalf, follows three New York appearances by Hillary Rodham Clinton with the congressman. Vice President Gore is due here Sunday for his second Schumer-boosting event of the past two weeks. The president has raised more than $1.2 million for Schumer, while the first lady has raised about $800,000.
White House aides say Clinton's decision to campaign heavily for Schumer is driven by political calculations, but acknowledge that contributing to a D'Amato defeat would pay large psychic dividends.
"First and foremost, he likes Chuck Schumer and they work well together and he thinks he would be a good senator," said White House counselor Doug Sosnik. "If in addition to that Al D'Amato is beat in the process that's all to the better."
Three years ago, D'Amato chaired a long and bitingly partisan Senate inquiry into the conduct of the president and his wife in the Whitewater land deal. D'Amato suddenly dropped his attacks on the first family after Clinton won reelection in 1996.
With an eye to his own reelection campaign this year and owing to the strong and resilient popularity of the Clintons in New York, the senator has refused any public comment on president's admitted affair with Monica S. Lewinsky.
Both Clinton and Schumer today avoided any direct criticism of D'Amato, who has been attacked daily in Schumer's TV ads for "telling too many lies for too long."
Instead, in appearances at a Queens church and at a private home in Brooklyn, they took the high road a route little traveled during this nasty campaign that has cost Schumer and D'Amato a total of about $35 million. D'Amato has outspent Schumer nearly 2 to 1.
Clinton mentioned that New York has a proud tradition of electing distinguished statesmen as senator. He mentioned senators Robert F. Kennedy, Jacob Javits, Robert Wagner and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. He pointedly did not mention D'Amato, who proudly calls himself "Senator Pothole."
For his part, Schumer made no reference at all to D'Amato. The nine-term congressman said he was proud to campaign with Clinton and confidently pronounced himself "on the eve of a great victory."
Staff writer John F. Harris in Washington contributed to this report.
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