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Husband issues loom in Hillary Clinton Senate race

August 14, 2005

By Ellen Wulfhorst

NEW YORK (Reuters) – When Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton comes
up for re-election next year, New York voters may well be
choosing between a high-powered female attorney with a wayward
husband and a high-powered female attorney with a wayward
husband.

The strongest potential challenger to emerge in the
campaign against the Democratic Clinton is Republican Jeanine
Pirro, district attorney in New York’s suburban Westchester
County.

Pirro is the best-known of the Republican challengers to
emerge thus far, having cultivated a national profile with her
work as a prosecutor and her frequent appearances on cable
television.

Should she win her party’s nomination over likely
conservative opposition to some of her moderate views, it could
set up an historic contest in 2006 between two women for the
high-profile Senate seat.

“There is some truth to ‘You’ve come a long way, baby,”‘
said Douglas Muzzio, a professor of public affairs at the City
University of New York. “They’re fighting it out on the premier
media stage in the world.”

Like Clinton, Pirro is a savvy, successful attorney who
supports abortion rights and a ban on assault weapons. And like
the former first lady, Pirro has ridden out a somewhat rocky
marriage.

While former President Bill Clinton had an affair with a
White House intern that led to his impeachment, Albert Pirro
fathered an out-of-wedlock child and served 11 months in
federal prison for tax fraud.

With Pirro as a moderate Republican and Clinton a centrist
Democrat, they could compete for many of the same votes,
particularly white, suburban women, analysts say.

HUSBAND BACKLASH?

Those voters may not be swayed by the so-called husband
issue, however, even as local tabloids gleefully run cartoons
poking fun at the former president’s womanizing and the absence
of Republican fund-raiser Albert Pirro in any of 103
photographs on his wife’s campaign Web site.

“If you push her around in terms of her husband, women are
going to get pissed off and say she should be judged on her
merits,” said political strategist Joseph Mercurio.

But most agree that such a match-up has less to do with who
will be a U.S. senator from New York and more to do with who
will run for U.S. president in 2008.

Widely expected to be interested in the top job, Clinton
has not indicated whether she will seek the Democratic Party’s
nomination and says she is concentrating on the Senate race.
Nevertheless, Republicans hope to weaken her — and cost her
money — ahead of the White House contest, said political
strategist Hank Sheinkopf.

“The real agenda is to get money into New York state to
attack Senator Clinton using negatives and independent
expenditures with the goal of making her less significant as a
presidential contender,” he said. “The presidential campaign
began the day Jeanine Pirro announced her candidacy.”

Pirro argues to the contrary. “My role is not about
bloodying anybody up for a future race,” she said when she
announced her candidacy and accused Clinton of using New York
to further a presidential ambition.

“If Hillary wants to be president, she should be honest
with herself and her constituents — and say so,” she said.

The contest has pundits rubbing their hands in anticipatory
glee.

“It’s New York,” pollster Lee Miringoff said. “That’s why
Broadway is in New York, just for shows like this.”




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