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  • Monday, August 9, 1999

    The talk of the political world is the first lady's discussion of her husband's chronic infidelity in the first issue of Talk magazine. And a new survey by Zogby International suggests that Hillary Rodham Clinton's comments may have helped her Senate bid in New York. Independent pollster John Zogby joined us live today to discuss Empire State politics, including the New York Senate race and Rep. Michael P. Forbes's recent switch to the Democratic Party.

    Washington Post columnist Mary McGrory calls Zogby "a premier New York pollster." A survey last week by Zogby's Utica-based firm for the New York Post and the Buffalo News shows a statistical dead heat in the Senate race, with Clinton closing a 10-point gap with Republican New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani in a poll the previous month. Rep. Rick A. Lazio is also running for the GOP nomination.

    Read John Zogby's answers to questions submitted by washingtonpost.com readers below.

    Clinton, IL: What sort of impact do you think that Gov. Pataki's endorsement of Rudy Giuliani will have on the New York Senate race in 2000?

    John Zogby: I believe it could have an enormous impact. In the best-case scenario for Republicans, it means a united party, a united party early on and an effort to focus attention exclusively on beating Mrs. Clinton. However, all is not as it appears. This could have been an effort by the governor to tell Rudy to hurry up and make a decision, because there is some talk that Rudy may not want to be a senator.


    Oklahoma City, OK: I find it fascinating that Mrs. Clinton appears to have gained ground by following her own instincts in her interview with Talk, not those of some paid scripter. All of the latter types seem to be howling in unison about what a dreadful error in judgment she made. Is there reason to hope that voters will respond to thoughtful comments that have not been pre-approved by handlers? I find myself paying more attention to Mrs. Clinton than to her husband. Am I alone?

    John Zogby: She raises interesting questions, but I'm not entirely sure of her premise. This truly had all the earmarks of professional handling. Very little that gets said or done at this level is done entirely by instinct.

    There are plenty of people out there, notably women, who like the public image of Mrs. Clinton in her own right, and she does her best, ironically, when she appears to be more in a victim mode.


    Boynton Beach, FL: What are Gov. George Pataki's chances of winning a third term in 2002 and who would be his likely Democratic opponent?

    John Zogby: That's a long ways away, and anything can happen – notably, the results of the election in 2000. We did a recent poll of Republican likely voters, and found that while 58 percent felt that Pataki should break his promise and run for a third term, one in three felt he should keep the promise. And those are Republicans. If those numbers hold going into 2002, that could be a problem for him.

    On the Democratic side, there's always the possibility of Carl McCall, the very popular state controller. Also, Andrew Cuomo has expressed an interest. And there's always a Kennedy or a Baldwin out there. On the other side of the coin, there's always Rudy on the Republican side.

    We have a Senate race this year where the candidates are such celebrities that you only need to use their first names. I suspect in a few months we'll only have to say "him" and "her," and the whole world will know what we're talking about.


    Tonawanda, NY: Upstaters seem to have little use for either Clinton or Giuliani. One doesn't even have a basic knowledge of the state; the other is concerned only with New York City. Do you think an Independence Party candidate from upstate – Tom Golisano, for example – could seize on this situation and run a potentially winning campaign fueled largely by upstate votes?

    John Zogby: Not a chance. Over 40 percent of the vote comes from upstate, but Golisano has run twice for governor, spent millions and only received 3 and 4 percent of the vote. In this instance, Rudy and Hillary already are garnering about 90 percent of the vote, with major party support. An independent candidacy just won't cut it.


    Baton Rouge, LA: How much of the New York City vote will Giuliani need to beat Hillary Clinton?

    John Zogby: Historically, if a Republican gets over 30 percent of the vote, that could be enough. Right now, he's polling under 30 percent.


    Queens, NY: Will Rep. Michael Forbes lose the Democratic primary in bid for a Democratic reelection campaign?

    John Zogby: Again, we're over a year away, but it looks as if Mike Forbes has lost a lot of his base. The Democratic voters are more likely to pick a "real Democrat," and Democratic Party leaders on Long Island have not embraced him. Besides that, the Republicans are quite angry and are likely to put in a lot of resources.


    Manassas, VA: Who is in line to receive the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party's nominations?

    John Zogby: A most interesting question. First, a little history. No Democrat has won a statewide office in New York without Liberal Party support, and no Republican has won statewide office without Conservative Party support since 1974. However, things get garbled from there. Rudy, a Republican, has won in New York City with Liberal Party support, bad news for Hillary. The Conservative Party is not inclined at the moment to embrace Rudy, bad news for Rudy. There are other parties: there is the Working Families Party, which is union-based and very likely to go for Hillary, as might the Independence Party. There is some talk that Gov. Pataki and former senator D'Amato will meet with the Conservative Party chairman about a Rudy endorsement. The upshot? Neither the governor and former senator on one hand, nor the Conservative Party chairman on the other hand, want to be blamed for losing the seat to Hillary. Isn't New York politics fun?


    Buffalo, NY: Given Bill Bradley's strength in New York, do you think he could do well in the state as an independent candidate next November – provided he loses the Democratic nomination to Gore?

    John Zogby: That's a good question. Bradley will do well in the New York primary, and I believe he has a chance to both win the New York primary and the Democratic nomination. I think it would be highly unlikely for Bradley to run as an independent should he lose. He is a party player.


    Washington, DC: The question that came from Oklahoma City stated that the First Lady had gained some ground because of the Talk interview. Do your numbers show this to be true? Washington pundits treated it more like a blunder.

    John Zogby: Interestingly, my polls showed that she gained after the Talk interview. Now, it could be that we polled too soon for the full impact of the interview to be felt. Perhaps she gained more as a result of her listening tour targeting the right places and Rudy having a bad couple of weeks, making some blunders. However, it could very well be that the pundits and the public have a different viewpoint on this, just as they seemed to differ during all of 1998 on the president.


    Greece, NY: Any chances for a Mario Cuomo comeback? It seems to me that he's still young enough to run for another office.

    John Zogby: Well, I don't believe so. But some polling that we have done indicates that the governor has higher favorables now than when he left office. His candidacy would be interesting and could be victorious.


    Washington, DC: I realize Lazio is trailing badly, and the Pataki announcement can't have helped, but can you envision a scenario where he might emerge as the "anti-Hillary & Rudy" candidate? It seems that people are already sick of the sniping, I can only wonder how sated most will be by spring.

    John Zogby: Good question. I'm not 100-percent convinced that Rudy is going to run, which is one of the reasons why the governor held his news conference the other day, essentially telling Rudy to make a decision quickly. Clearly, Rick Lazio has a future in the Republican Party. If Rudy does run, Lazio could be an interesting candidate for governor or U.S. Senate in the future. If Rudy doesn't run, I don't think the party would have any problem rallying around him. As far as his being a third candidate, that won't happen, because he could be in the position of being a spoiler and ensuring a victory for Mrs. Clinton, which will not endear him to state Republicans.


    washingtonpost.com: Based on your numbers, where are the most competitive House races in New York? Anyone look vulnerable?

    John Zogby: The Forbes seat is certainly one that comes to mind. There is always talk about Maurice Hinchey in the southern tier, and Sue Kelly in Westchester County, but both look to be in good shape, as is John LaFalce, in Niagara Falls. So I guess we're only talking about the Forbes seat as vulnerable for now.


    Harrisburg, PA: Given the current in-fighting in the Republican Party with regards to Pat Buchanan and other conservatives possibly leaving the party, what impact do you think this will have on George W. Bush's consideration of a running mate if he wins the nomination?

    washingtonpost.com: And a related question: If a candidate like George W. Bush won the GOP nomination, are Pataki and Giuliani vice presidential material – or are they too much like Bush?

    John Zogby: Good questions. As to the first, if George W. Bush is to win, he'll win in the center and has little to worry about a Pat Buchanan bolting. Why? Because Buchanan as a third-party candidate, interestingly, will draw some Democrats who like his position on plant closings, anti-free trade and China. So the impact on the Republicans will be neutralized.

    As to the second question, I don't believe Giuliani would be considered, because he is perceived as too moderate. The Pataki scenario is 50-50. I could see Republicans nominating him as a way to boost the Giuliani candidacy against Hillary. Other than that, he's not a good prospect, because thus far he's not been seen as someone who can help a candidate carry a state.


    Jacksonville, FL: Is there any polling data on the "Clinton fatigue" factor, in NY or in U.S., and its effect on Democratic candidates?

    John Zogby: That is a hard thing to poll. There is evidence, when you look at the decline of popularity in Clinton's numbers, and as well, in Gore's. But when you ask people a question point-blank like that, you're not sure to get an accurate response. But to be sure, there is Clinton fatigue. And the real consequences are seen in how poorly Gore is doing.


    Washington, DC: Observers often remark that Mayor Giuliani lacks the right temperament to be a senator, and that would be unhappy in the office. To what degree – if at all – do voters base their decisions on this kind of consideration? In other words, are many – or any – voters likely not to vote for Giuliani because they think he lacks the proper disposition to be a senator?

    John Zogby: I think it's out there. But I think it's neutralized by just as many on the other side who don't feel that Mrs. Clinton has the temperament. Suffice it to say that each candidate has a core of people who viscerally dislike them and are simply looking for additional reasons to not vote for their less favorite. However, I believe it will be an issue in the campaign more against Rudy, because to this point he has not shown himself to be a team player, one capable of compromising or one willing to equivocate.


    Melrose, MA: How much will the top of the respective party tickets – assuming its Gov. Bush for the GOP and Vice President Gore for the Democrats – affect the potential Mrs. Clinton vs. Mayor Giuliani Senate race? How about vice versa – how will the New York Senate race affect Bush vs. Gore?

    John Zogby: In many ways, I believe the main event will be the Hillary-Rudy race – possibly the race of the century. To the degree that this overshadows the presidential race, it is to the detriment of Gore, who has to win New York, and who also needs to raise money. Bush has already shown that he can raise virtually unlimited sums.

    Regarding the second question, a weakened Democratic presidential candidacy could hurt Hillary's chances in New York.


    Queens, NY: Do you think Rudy Giuliani has what it takes to beat Hillary Clinton?

    John Zogby: Yes. I think this is too close to call. They are both dogged campaigners, both smart, both have instant and nearly universal name recognition. In the final analysis, I give Rudy a very very slight edge, because he doesn't have the carpetbagger issue to contend with and there are more undecideds upstate than anywhere else, and those would naturally favor breaking to the Republicans.


    washingtonpost.com: That's all the time we have for pollster John Zogby. We'll turn to him again in the future for updates on the numbers from New York. Thank you, John, for your time. And thank you for all of your questions.

    Be sure to join us tomorrow for our live discussion with Rep. John Thune (R-S.D.)


                   

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