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Giuliani Will Not Run for U.S. Senate; Rep. Lazio Likely to be Hillary Clinton's New Opponent

Aired May 19, 2000 - 2:25 p.m. ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Just an hour and a half hour ago we learned that New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is stepping down from the Senate race where he faced Hillary Rodham Clinton, and now we know that in just less than an hour, at 3:15 Eastern, he will make that official from City Hall. We have also learned that it looks like Congressman Rick Lazio of Long Island will be Hillary Clinton's new opponent. And we are learning more about him this afternoon.

John King from Washington has more on this developing story now -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Try to bring you up to the latest information we have, Natalie. First, for the mayor, we are told by now numerous Republican sources the mayor will indeed announce he is not running. And those familiar with the draft of his statement, and those who have spoken to the mayor's top deputy say that the statement will focus on his health. The mayor recently diagnosed with prostate cancer. We are told he will say that, as he goes now into intensive treatment, he simply came to the decision that he does not have the time or the energy to dedicate to this Senate race.

Again, that announcement due in a little less than an hour from the mayor in New York City.

Now, already, a very carefully orchestrated effort underway by state Republican leaders to move quickly to a new candidate. He is Congressman Rick Lazio, Republican from Long Island, relatively unknown outside of that area, but he had considered running for the Senate seat, was talked out of it when the Republican leadership rallied around the mayor. He already has a statement prepared, which he will release shortly after the mayor's event, announcing that he intends to run. He will also meet with reporters on Long Island tonight to say that for the cameras, that at a previously scheduled town hall to discuss cancer and cancer-related issue.

Congressman Lazio, a moderate to conservative Republican. Already from the first lady's campaign, remember first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton is the Democratic candidate, we are hearing descriptions that they will try to paint Lazio as a Newt Gingrich lieutenant, as too far right for the state of New York.

But if you look at the congressman's record, if he steps up, that could be a tough argument. Like the first lady, he supports abortion right; like the first lady supports, he has supported key gun control measures like the Brady Bill and the assault weapons ban; the first lady often talks about the family leave law and how helpful that has been to working families, Congressman Lazio broke with the Republican leadership and he supported that legislation.

The first lady's key advantage right now is money. She has millions of dollars, she is already advertising on television. Congressman Lazio has about $4 million in the bank, the key challenge for him now is to try to raise money for this race, and also to raise his profile outside of his congressional district on Long Island -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Well, John, when you talk about his issues and where he stands, you wonder what specific issues then they will be able to duke it out over in this campaign.

KING: Well, the issues portfolio, at least from the outset, the first lady will try to stick to her message, again, a very national Democratic theme, that the Republicans, not necessarily naming her rival by name, the Republicans want a big, risky tax cut that would endanger Social Security and Medicare. If that sounds familiar, it is right out of the Clinton playbook in 1996, and it is right out of Al Gore's playbook right now. That is a message, they believe, sells well in New York.

She will also make the case that he is too far to the right to win statewide in New York, it is a moderate state, it has a Republican governor, but he is a moderate.

Again, though, the challenge for Congressman Lazio will be to make the case that he is not a Newt Gingrich clone, and though he supported Speaker Gingrich when he ran for speakership, he has broken with the leadership on many issues.

The key race now will be to see which candidate can define the other first, Congressman Lazio will make the case that he is a mainstream New Yorker, and that he was born in New York; the first lady will make the case that he is too far to the right. In the short-term, she has more money, and obviously more of a spotlight on her, but Congressman Lazio, I spoke to one of his top aides a few moments, and he said: He is going to get famous very fast.

ALLEN: Right, a different dynamic, he certainly will. And this race will be interesting, just the same. John King, thank you. John, reporting that the Giuliani office saying that he does not have the time or energy to stay in this race. We will be hearing more about that from him specifically within the hour.

Now, for more, here is Lou.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: In about 45 minutes to be exact. Down at City Hall, that is where CNN's Frank Buckley is, and I imagine it is getting busy down there -- Frank.

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, Lou, mostly with reporters coming and going, and crews getting ready for the news conference that we are expecting between 3:00 and 4:00 Eastern here at City Hall.

I can tell you that, give you some additional insight into how the campaign staff was informed of the decision by Mr. Giuliani that he was pulling out of the race. One campaign aide telling me that they were simply gathered together and informed at about 1:00 p.m. Eastern. They were told that the mayor has decided to pull out of the race.

This aide telling me that, quote, "it was not a huge surprise." There are about 30-paid staffers on staff, they'll have to begin considering what to do next for themselves.

The staffers were also told that the pullout of this race was because of medical reasons, and as John King just mentioned that, that is the direction that the mayor's speech will probably take. In fact, that is how Mayor Giuliani has tried to frame this decision for the past three weeks since he announced that he had the prostate cancer. Other issues have arisen since then, of course, he has announced the separation agreement or the seeking of a separation agreement from his wife of 16 years, Donna Hanover, also he has acknowledged a friendship with a woman who is not his wife, and Donna Hanover, his current wife also alleged that he was involved in an improper relationship with a former press secretary.

The mayor did not want to be in a position of making the decision based on those issues and had consistently told reporters that his decision would be based on medical reasons. Part of that clearly the idea that he didn't want to leave this race under a cloud of scandal, he wanted to leave based on the medical reasons. So that is what we know here at city hall. We are awaiting the decision -- Lou and Natalie.

WATERS: All right, Frank Buckley keeping watch down there at city hall, where we are expecting an announcement from the mayor in about 45 minutes or so.

Bill Schneider, our senior political analyst is with us. And we've heard health now as the reason, and as we were discussing if at the early stages of this prostate cancer men of Giuliani's age usually select surgery and treatment, which would take about six weeks, then six weeks to recover, which would take us to Labor Day and as you pointed out that would have made for a very unusual campaign.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITCAL ANALYST: It would have, because the first lady would have been out there presenting herself to the voters of New York making -- convincing them she really is one of them, she's already gone to every one of the 62 counties in New York state.

My colleague Jeff Greenfield remarked some time ago that once this campaign is finished, New Yorkers are going to come to believe that she's lived in New York for 30 years, she's going to be so evident. She would not have attacked the mayor, she wouldn't have criticized him, he just would have been irrelevant to the campaign, which is no way to participate in a campaign.

ALLEN: While we talk we also want to bring in former congresswoman Susan Molinari, who joins us on the phone. We're wondering, Susan, what do you think about what you are hearing as far as Giuliani is stepping down and it sounds like Rick Lazio will be the candidate?

SUSAN MOLINARI (R), FMR. U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Well, that's exactly what I'm hearing, and of course I'm disappointed. I think Mayor Giuliani is a terrific mayor and would have made a wonderful senatorial candidate and senator.

I did speak to the mayor today and I have no doubt after speaking to him that everything that you all have just discussed is accurate, he is leaving because of health reasons, he's very concerned that he's able to provide himself with the best form of cancer treatment and has sort of a clear head in seeking that course of action and following it through.

And I do also hear that Rick Lazio is going to be the unified candidate for the Republican Party, and I think, again, he will do the job, he'll get in there, he's a smart guy, he has a great record and a good reputation in New York state, and he's got some catching up to do, but I'm sure he'll do that.

SCHNEIDER: Congresswoman, this is Bill Schneider in Atlanta, you were a colleague of Rick Lazio in the Congress.


SCHNEIDER: Do you expect anyone -- any other Republican to challenge him for the nomination, Peter King or anyone else?

MOLINARI: You know, at this point and time, I don't want to speak for anybody else, and certainly Peter is a friend of mine also and I served with him. But I think at this point the Republican Party is anxious to get a candidate and stand behind that candidate, help that candidate increase their profile as quickly as possible, and so, anybody who would raise their hat at this date I think probably would not be very welcome.

SCHNEIDER: Another question, they're going to try -- the Democrats are going to try to depict Congressman Lazio as a soldier in Newt Gingrich's army. Well, you were also considered a soldier in that army. Is that a fair description of him, or do you -- because he was close to the leadership as you were.

MOLINARI: Well, I mean, you know, the Democrats are -- you know, haven't really been able to have as much fun having a demon in the closet as they did since Newt Gingrich left Congress, and so, I don't know that that's necessarily going to work anymore. I think that's a bit of a tired and old line. And, yes, we all worked for Newt when he was speaker on behalf of the Republican Party and the Republican Party agenda. I'm sure if you check, you know, Rick on so many issues he did not vote with Newt on a lot of issues that were important to New Yorkers and a lot of visceral, emotional issues like abortion and gun control.

ALLEN: Susan, did he -- when you talked with the mayor this afternoon, did he mention to you the difficulty in making this decision, how he came about it?

MOLINARI: He did not, but it was clear that it was a difficult decision for him. I think anybody who witnessed the mayor's performance last night at his town-hall meeting saw that from a mental state he was certainly up for the job. He is smart. He was ready for the questions. He's ready to deal with anything that came his way from a campaign standpoint and so I think that, again, after my conversation with him it's clear that it really is a physical problem.

As I think I overheard Bill just saying now that the time that it would take to pursue the most aggressive course of treatment, the time that it would take him to feel that you could really relax while you were recuperating and still being mayor -- let's not forget that he was also going to be fulfilling the mandates of, you know, running the city of New York, which is a tough job -- so that really led to his decision.

I think he wanted to do this, I think he was up for this. I have no doubt that he would win this election. I just think that the timing with regard to his diagnosis is something that from a personal standpoint he said had to come first.

WATERS: Now, the candidacy of Rick Lazio, Ms. Molinari, is problematic for the Republicans who will be meeting in 10 days to presumably nominate him if this can be all solidified around the governor's wishes. What do the Republicans have to do to get this man elected?

MOLINARI: Well, I think, you know, obviously one of the reasons -- one of the setbacks that Rick has vis-a-vis mayor is -- Mayor Giuliani is his name recognition, but Rick is a -- is very tough, he has a lot of energy, this is obviously something he wants badly.

So, just like Chuck Schumer did, you know, last year, I'm sure that Rick will be around the state and will match Mrs. Clinton place for place, spot for spot, town-hall meeting to town-hall meeting, and he will get himself known in short order, I think, and then you'll see those name recognition polls change dramatically.

Of course, his other big challenge is raising money, but I think the political analysts who say that, you know, sort of the anybody but Hillary factor that was at play obviously to a certain extent in Mayor Giuliani's race will also accrue to Rick's benefit and he'll be able to make money in his campaign caucus in a short amount of time.

WATERS: And as it's been pointed out, Mr. Lazio will get very famous very fast, I don't imagine name recognition will be much of a problem.

MOLINARI: Well, I think that's absolutely accurate. I predict by the end this weekend his name recognition (AUDIO GAP) 25 percentage points. WATERS: Yes.

ALLEN: All right, Susan Molinari, thank you for talking with us this afternoon.

MOLINARI: My pleasure.

ALLEN: Let's talk a little bit more about the money, because we mentioned a good while ago now that Giuliani has $16 million and that can't directly go to Rick Lazio now, doesn't work that way.

SCHNEIDER: Two thousand of it can, he can give a personal contribution, but the money was given to him and he can't just transfer it to the Lazio campaign. He may be able to give it to the Republican Party, however, and they can of course do ads that aren't directly connected and coordinated with the Lazio campaign.

But money is not going to be a problem. There are just lots of Republicans statewide and nationally who want to stop Hillary Rodham Clinton and they're going to give Lazio money the same way they gave Giuliani money, even though a lot of the money came from people who really didn't agree with Giuliani on many issues.

WATERS: So if this does become, as you predict, a national campaign, who can we expect to see leading the charge for Rick Lazio in New York for the U.S. Senate seat, say, the cavalry from out of Washington?

SCHNEIDER: Well, the cavalry will come from Albany and from New York City, it will be Mayor Giuliani who -- to the extent that he can campaign will endorse Lazio, I hope -- I -- for Lazio's sake he does, and will back him up, and I think the governor who is very popular in New York will back him up, and they'll say he's one of us, you know, he is a real New Yorker, and he's been in Washington, he knows how it works, and you'll -- I would advise national Republicans to stay in the background on this because, you know, that's how Al D'Amato lost to Chuck Schumer last time.

Al D'Amato was seen as part of the conservative national Republican army that was tormenting President Clinton, who remains a very popular figure in New York, and he got beaten by a guy, Chuck Schumer, who also was a congressman and had the same stature problem.

WATERS: What about George Bush, does he also stay clear of this?

SCHNEIDER: Well, I think George Bush is not a dangerous figure even in New York, which is a Democratic state, the way Barry Goldwater was when Robert Kennedy won by running against Goldwater in 1964. Kennedy was a carpet bagger, the only one I can find who got elected who had never lived or worked in the state, he ran against Barry Goldwater, a scary right-wing figure.

In those days, the country thought Barry Goldwater was way off to the right. Well, the country and New York have both moved a little bit to the right, they're now more in the center than they were in 1964. George Bush is now running to the center, that is slightly to the left of the national Republican Party, whereas Goldwater was running way to the right of what the national Republican Party was in the 1960s. So I don't think Bush is as scary a figure as Goldwater.

WATERS: Does this change the dynamic at all between Gore and Hillary Rodham Clinton?

SCHNEIDER: Well, I think Gore probably figures that it's going to be an easier race for Mrs. Clinton in New York and there won't be quite as much intensity and focus on the race, and more people are going to focus on him, and he will be able to coordinate with Mrs. Clinton a little bit better in making this a national campaign in which both she and he are standard bearers.

ALLEN: Susan Molinari not sounding too concerned about this change from her demeanor being on CNN, she wouldn't want to sound that way. But can you imagine the level of concern right now?

SCHNEIDER: I think there's a lot of concern in New York, but I think that what they are trying to do is close the ranks very quickly. If Peter King or anyone else tries to run, the money is just not going to be there. They want to solidify their support behind one candidate, and that apparently is Rick Lazio, and make him the anti-Clinton candidate and the New Yorker -- very, very important -- not just anti- Clinton, but the legitimate New Yorker where she may not be.

ALLEN: All right, well, we certainly have learned a lot about Rick Lazio in the past hour and a half. Thank you, Bill Schneider. We'll stay on the story. Again, the mayor making this official in about 30 minutes from now.

We'll take a break. More after this.



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