Lazio's Crummy Campaign
Jude Wanniski
November 9, 2000


Memo To: John Podhoretz, NYPost
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Why Hillary Won

Your Post column Wednesday, “Rick Lazio’s Lesson: Negative Doesn’t Win,” is the only commentary I’ve seen that even comes close to explaining how Lazio systematically threw away any chance of defeating Hilary Clinton. You correctly identified his professional campaign strategist Mike Murphy, the protégé of Art Finkelstein, as the fellow who mapped out the pit bull approach to Hillary. You also might have mentioned Bill Dal Col, Murphy’s second-in-command, who also learned his politic gamesmanship in the Finkelstein era, where the primary objective was to drive your opponent’s “negatives” over 40% by non-stop ferocity. Dal Col was Steve Forbes’s campaign manager in 1996 when Steve, one of the sweetest men in the world, campaigned for the GOP presidential nomination with a barrage of negative ads against Bob Dole, a respected Republican who had been known to the national Republican electorate for decades of service.

Lazio’s effort failed because Hillary Clinton also has been in the public eye for eight years and was a known quantity. While the New York electorate had doubts about her ability to represent them when she had never lived in the state, they had no sense of Lazio -- when he became the GOP nominee by default after Mayor Rudy Giuliani dropped out when he learned of his prostate cancer. He seemed like such a nice boy until he began his assaults on the First Lady, who maintained her composure in a way that impressed me as I watched from my perch just across the Hudson in New Jersey. What I also saw, which you did not mention, was an absolutely stupid attempt by Murphy/Lazio to concentrate on winning the Jewish vote!! There is nothing wrong in trying to persuade Jewish voters in New York to support Republicans. But Lazio began the process by accusing Hillary of being ANTI-ISRAEL because she gave Yasir Arafat’s wife a peck on the cheek when the two were on the same platform early this year. Then, with violence raging in the Middle East as the peace process was in tatters, Lazio came out screaming about how he ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY opposed a separate state for the Palestinians. This was also meant to impress NYC Jews, as Hillary had been on record sympathizing with the Palestinian yearning for a state of their own.

Then, when Senator Joe Lieberman, Al Gore’s running mate, said he would be prepared to meet with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, whom he said he respected, Lazio dumped on Lieberman, an orthodox Jew, thinking this would further impress “the Jewish vote.” If Lieberman would meet with Farrakhan, Lazio should have immediately announced that he also would meet with him, if only to see what he had to say. This is Mike Murphy at work, part of the Finkelstein school that argues you should do your best to keep the black turnout as low as possible. Don’t stir it up. This means you ignore it. At one point late in the campaign, the Marist Poll had Hillary winning 95% of the black vote, 0% for Lazio and 5% undecided. There was no sign in the Lazio campaign of even a gesture toward the black community.

In the end, Lazio lost the Jewish vote anyway, and lost the Muslim vote in the state, which is considerable, and was swamped in the black communities of New York.

That’s why he lost, John. The state GOP establishment gushed praise all over the kid on Tuesday night while they pondered Hillary’s 700,000-vote margin of victory. The only explanation was that he came into the campaign late and if he only had another three months, he could have won. I’m afraid not. Another three months with Murphy and Dal Col would have given Clinton a million-vote margin. I must say, John, it certainly would have helped if you had used your column during the five-month campaign to point this out to the Long Island rookie instead of waiting until he was annihilated on Tuesday. In the next election cycle, I hope you point out these lessons early and often, not merely after-the-fact.