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Jewish World Review Aug. 10, 1999 /28 Av 5759

Morton Kondracke

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Rudy, Hillary try much-needed makeovers -- NEW YORK MAYOR RUDY GIULIANI, a Republican, has been likened to Mussolini. First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton resembles Madam Mao. No wonder the two Senate candidates are attempting makeovers.

Giuliani, according to The New York Times magazine, is smiling more and barking less as a means of changing his image from that of an authoritarian bully to a "new Rudy."

Clinton, losing ground in the polls amid accusations of carpetbagging and left-liberalism, used the debut issue of Talk magazine to revive the role of stoical wife that boosted her approval ratings during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Polls indicate that both candidates have a need to make people think better of them -- Clinton more than Giuliani. She is viewed favorably by only 53 percent of likely New York voters, according to the latest Zogby poll, and unfavorably by 40 percent. Giuliani has a 63-28 favorability rating.

Zogby found that Giuliani leads Clinton, 49 percent to 39 percent, in a head-to-head matchup. The latest Marist Institute poll has Giuliani up 47-41, a switch from January -- impeachment time -- when she was leading, 53-42. A Quinnipiac College poll puts the two in a dead heat, 45-45. But in February, Clinton led 54-36.

Another argument for makeovers is that a significant portion of each candidate's supporters is motivated primarily by dislike for the other, according to the one poll that's examined this subject.

In June, pro-Giuliani pollster Frank Luntz found that 36 percent of Giuliani backers said they were primarily anti-Hillary (vs. 60 percent that were mainly pro-Rudy) while 20 percent of Clinton supporters said they were primarily anti-Giuliani (while 63 percent were pro-Hillary).

My guess is that fear and loathing of the two candidates actually is even greater than that. After all, there is a lot not to like about each of them.

As a U.S. attorney, Giuliani busted major Mafiosi, but he also dragged an indicted stockbroker out of his office in handcuffs in front of a mob of camerapeople to prove how tough he was against white-collar criminals.

As mayor, he has cleaned up Times Square and cut the crime rate -- but he also has humiliated subordinates, erected police barriers against jaywalking and winked at police brutality. He makes the trains run on time, but he resembles Singapore's Lee Kwan Yew.

Clinton, once touted as co-president, tried to exile the detested media to the Old Executive Office Building and sicced the FBI on the White House travel office.

She concocted her famous plan for government domination of health care in secret and promoted it, in part, by demonizing doctors and the insurance industry. She campaigns for worthy causes -- women's rights and children's welfare -- but exudes a self-righteous conviction in her own rectitude and persistently accuses critics of evil motives.

And, of course, she sticks with Bill in spite of his infidelities. In a poll in March, Zogby asked what question voters most wanted to ask the two candidates. For Giuliani, people wanted to know about education and health care. For Clinton, it was, "Why are you running in New York?" and "Why do you stay with him?"

Clinton was bound to be asked the Bill question repeatedly during the campaign. Now, she's answered it in Talk in a way that reinvigorates her popular image as a victimized but strong and understanding wife: He was abused, he is weak, but he's trying -- and, besides, I love him.

The explanation, straight out of a session with Oprah, seems especially designed to appeal to women, who ought to represent Clinton's core strength.

But the Marist and Zogby polls show that Clinton is only even with Giuliani among women now. In February, the Marist poll had her ahead among women, 52-36.

Luntz predicts that Giuliani will not primarily campaign negatively against Clinton, but will emphasize his record and will promise to achieve more for New York. And he thinks she will try to position herself carefully on "quality of life" issues like health.

Let's hope the campaign goes that way. But, New York being New York, I'd bet on the negatives. And one wrinkle of that is an underlying fear that electing one or the other candidate will create a national monster.

If a Republican gets elected president in 2000 and Hillary Clinton becomes a senator, she'll certainly be on everyone's short list for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. She may even be the front-runner.

Meanwhile, in last week's Time magazine, contributing writer James Traub quotes an acolyte of Giuliani's, Elliot Cuker, as saying of the mayor, "All of his friends imagine him as president someday."

If there is a negative "presidential factor" in the New York race, it would seem to help Giuliani: It's hard to imagine Republicans ever nominating a pro-choice, pro-gun control and pro-gay rights candidate, even if he is tough as nails.

On the other hand, it's not at all difficult to imagine Clinton, if a Republican wins in 2000, as the new hope of Democratic liberals.

So Giuliani's best argument for Senate might be: Let's end this long Clinton soap opera once and for all.

JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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