By Dick Morris - 09/21/05 12:00 AM EDT
Former President Bill Clinton’s thesis, articulated on “Meet the Press,” is that “large” figures in their parties who are elected to lesser offices should not be asked to commit to serving out their full terms so that when duty calls they are free to answer.
It’s advice he failed to heed for himself when he was governor of Arkansas. Then he just resorted to his frequent M.O. and lied, telling the voters that he was going to serve out his full term when he had no real intention of doing so — if he could help it.
But Arkansas is not New York, and the relatively unknown Bill Clinton of 1990 is not the Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonJeb Bush: Reports of father supporting Clinton were 'inappropriate' Libertarian VP: 'Pop quizzes' on TV are not Johnson's 'forte' Trump: I have 'very good' marital history MORE of 2005. Hillary must come squarely face to face with an unpleasant fact: If she won’t commit to serving a full term in the Senate, she may not win reelection to the seat.
At first, it looked as if she could skate by without a full commitment since she faced relatively weak opposition. Ed Cox, Nixon’s son-in-law, and John Spencer, former Yonkers mayor, were not the sort to confront Hillary with a potent challenge. But now that Jeanine Pirro has declared her candidacy, Hillary has a real fight on her hands.
Since Pirro is pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-affirmative action, pro-gay civil unions and pro-immigration, Hillary cannot use any of her trusty hot-button issues to dismiss her. And, as a woman, Pirro is in an excellent position to challenge Hillary on all of her core issues.
Already, since Pirro announced — and despite her embarrassing 32 seconds of silence while she groped for her speech text — the Westchester Republican, a district attorney, has closed the gap with Hillary. The Democratic senator led Pirro by a gigantic 30-point margin, 61-31 percent, before Jeanine announced. But afterward Pirro trailed by only 55-34.
Most senators can escape having to declare that they will serve out a full term. But Hillary can’t because of the unique way she came to New York state. Had the first lady decided to run for senator in Delaware or Indiana or some such state, voters would have assumed she just moved in to run. But she moved to New York state and assured us all that she was vindicating a lifelong dream to move to the Big Apple. So many people have done so, and New Yorkers’ egos are such that they believed that Hillary had just felt the same magic gravitational pull the city seems to exert on people.
But now she is using New York state as a steppingstone. As Pirro said in her announcement (the part of the text she could find), “Hillary asked us to put out the welcome mat and we did so. But now she wants us to become a doormat and that we will never do.”
Polls show that 60 percent of New Yorkers do not want Hillary to run for president even as 55 percent say they will vote for her for the Senate. They know that a senator is AWOL when she goes for the top prize.
Neither Kerry nor Lieberman nor Gephardt nor Edwards was seen much around the Capitol when their candidacies beckoned. Despite good attendance records beforehand, they rarely showed up for votes. As a presidential candidate, Hillary will be off in Iowa, New Hampshire, Florida and other states rather than in New York or Washington working for the people she was elected to represent. It’s just the nature of things.
Armed with the doubts of New Yorkers about Hillary’s fealty and protected by her social liberalism, Pirro will make a very effective challenger. She will almost certainly make the race closer than the 12 points that separated Hillary from her 2000 Republican challenger, Rep. Rick Lazio. And Pirro will make her work hard and spend tens of millions of dollars.
And she might just beat Hillary. Which raises the question: Why is Hillary running for reelection to a job she wants to leave? New Yorkers will all be asking, so Hillary might want to ask herself.
Morris is the author of Rewriting History, a rebuttal of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) memoir, Living History.