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Dems Read Lazio His Rights

The CBS News Political Unit is tracking the latest campaign commercials. Francesca Gessner takes a look at a new Democratic ad that hammers New York Republican Senate candidate Rick Lazio.

The Ad:
The New York State Democratic Committee has released a new TV ad attacking Republican New York Senate candidate Rep. Rick Lazio for voting against a "real" Patients' Bill of Rights. The 30-second ad titled Right is running in upstate New York.

Nurse: "If a patient is denied medical care or surgery or even prescriptions because a company has decided that this is not something that they cover, the patient suffers."

Male Voiceover: "HMO bureaucrats are making life and death decisions. Yet in Congress, Rick Lazio voted against the real Patients' Bill of Rights, favored by health professionals so they can do their jobs."

Male Voiceover: "Call Lazio, tell him he works for us, not the insurance companies."

Nurse: "We need this law because it will save lives. It will save lives."

The ad opens with a female nurse speaking directly to the camera, her name, Sandra Morales, R.N., written on the screen. We next see a worried mother nursing her baby. We then cut back to Morales speaking to the camera; and then back to the mother and baby, who has started to cry. Next we see the nurse on the phone, receiving bad news (presumptively from an HMO bureaucrat) and relaying the news to an older male patient standing nearby. Large capital letters across the screen read, "Rick Lazio Voted Against Real Patients' Bill Of Rights," followed by, "Call Rick Lazio at phone…" The ad concludes with the nurse speaking directly to the camera saying, "We need this law because it will save lives."

Fact Check:
Lazio voted with the House Republican leadership against the Bipartisan Consensus Managed Care Improvement Act of 1999, which would have allowed patients to sue their HMOs for damages in state court. Instead, Lazio supported two Republican versions of the Patients' Bill of Rights that would have capped lawsuit damages for HMOs and provided tax deductions for those who pay more than 50 percent of their own health-care premiums.

The Strategy:
Though Right does not mention Hillary Clinton by name and was produced independently of her campaign (by Democratic consultant David Axelrod from Mrs. Clinton's "old" home state of Illinois), the ad clearly promotes the first lady and echoes themes sounded by her campaign. In fact, the Clinton campaign released an ad two weeks ago slamming Lazio on the exact same topic.

Unlike the Clinton campaign, the New York State Democratic Party can use unregulated "soft money" to finance ads on political issues, as long as they do not explicitly advocate voting for or against a particular candidate. Lazio has already benefited from twads run by independent groups, the New York Conservative Party and the Republican Leadership Council. These type of soft-money ads are likely to play a large, perhaps controversial role in what is gearing up to be the most expensive Senate race in U.S. history.