Hillary's New York State Of Mind

Hillary Clinton at her first press conference as Senator-elect
AP
Vowing to bring honor to the legacy of the man whose seat she will fill, Hillary Rodham Clinton thanked her supporters for electing her to replace Daniel Patrick Moynihan in the Senate from New York.

Democrat Clinton made history by becoming the only first lady to be elected to public office and New York's first female senator, easily defeating GOP Congressman Rick Lazio in the nation's highest profile Senate contest Tuesday night.

At a morning-after press conference in Manhattan on Wednesday, Clinton said she'll be able to fit in to a Senate likely to remain in Republican hands, and which includes many members who voted to throw her husband out of office over the Monica Lewinsky scandal. "I think I will get a very positive reception," said Clinton.

"I have worked with a number of the Republican members in the past," she said. "I look forward to working with them on a bipartisan basis on issues that affect their states, as well as New York, as well as the country."

Clinton said she expected to be in contact with some of her fellow senators over the next few days.

"Before I came down, Senator Orrin Hatch called me to congratulate me and wish me well," she said.

She also said she hoped to work beyond party lines when she takes up her duties for New York. "I reached out to (New York's) Governor Pataki this morning. And last night, (New York City) Mayor (Rudy) Giuliani called me and wished me well and he and I talked about what he and I could do in the remaining year of his term on behalf of this city."

In addition, Clinton said she has no intention of running for president in four years, vowing to serve out her six-year Senate term in full.

In what may be an indication that her reception may not be so "positive," GOP Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott greeted her election tartly.

"I tell you one thing, when this Hillary gets to the Senate - if she does, maybe lightning will strike and she won't - she will be one of 100 and we won't let her forget it," Lott said in his home state of Mississippi.

Clinton declared victory on Tuesday night at a Manhattan hotel ballroom serving as her temporary campaign headquarters. She was joined by her husband and daughter, Chelsea, along with Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer and Moynihan.

"I feel like the Mets: We came in second," Rick Lazio said in his concession speech in Manhattan on Tuesday night, invoking last month's World Series. The congressmen said he was happy with his effort. "I'm proud of this campaign ... We conducted a campaign with integrity and honesty."

In the Democratic stronghold of New York City, voters turned out in large numbers, a factor political observers predicted would push her over the top.

"She overcame the skeptics, and worked and worked and won," Schumer said after the victory was declared.

CBS News exit polls suggested that one of Lazio's main attack strategies dd not catch on with voters. Only about one-third of voters were concerned that she has not lived in the state long enough to effectively represent New Yorkers.

Clinton won among almost every age group of New Yorkers, except those age 60 or older. Even among these older voters, Clinton and Lazio were almost dead even. The first lady registered her strongest support among African-American voters (89 percent to 11 percent) and among Hispanics (76 percent to 24 percent). In a state where almost three out of every five voters went for Gore, Clinton won 83 percent of the votes of Gore supporters. Clinton also led among Nader supporters, 50 percent to 35 percent.

"I'm just elated. I'm so proud of her," President Clinton told reporters as he greeted supporters after his wife's speech.

"I'm so happy and so grateful. I don't know what else to say," he said, wiping a tear from his eye.

"I think, with her background, she brings a major advantage to Congress," said the Rev. Floyd Flake, a former Democratic congressman from New York. "She is not like the average junior senator."

Eight in 10 Clinton voters said their vote was cast more for her than against Lazio, while Lazio voters were nearly evenly divided between those voting for their candidate and those voting against Clinton.

In a race that has been noted for its rough-and-tumble nature, exit polls showed that three in 10 voters felt Lazio had been on the attack more than Clinton. Only two in 10 thought Clinton had attacked more. Both Lazio and the state Republican Party spent much of the campaign criticizing Clinton's failed 1993 health care reform plan and portraying her as anti-Israeli because a Muslim group raised $50,000 for her campaign. She returned the money.

In the end, Clinton won 54 percent of the Jewish vote, and she turned her health care fiasco into a campaign pledge, saying she would never give up on the ideal of health care as "a right, not a privilege."

The race was one of the costliest Senate campaigns in history, with the candidates, including Republican Rudy Giuliani, who dropped out on May 19, spending $83 million. The campaign saw issues of character, place of birth, marital fidelity, and campaign finance collide with discussion of education, Social Security and the state's economy.

Clinton's planning for the Senate race began in the living quarters of the White House in February of last year when she met for several hours with New York political veteran Harold Ickes, a former White House deputy chief of staff during President Clinton's first term. That very day, the Senate voted on whether to remove her husband, an impeachment triggered by his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

By early July, she was at Moynihan's upstate New York farm, receiving his blessing and kicking off a summer-long "listening tour" of New York. In January, she moved into a $1.7 million house she and the president had bought in sububan Westchester County.

Giuliani stepped out of the race against Clinton after a prostate cancer diagnosis and amid marital strife, paving the way for Lazio to take his place. The wife of New York's GOP Gov. George Pataki criticized Giuliani in a radio interview Tuesday for taking too long to withdraw from race, leaving Lazio short on time.

"I was very disappointed by the selfish behavior on his part," Libby Pataki told WROW-AM radio in Albany. "It was time Rick could have used. It did hurt."

Lazio advertised himself as the "real New Yorker," a moderate Republican who traveled the state on a bus called "The Mainstream Express." In fund-raising letters, he denounced the Clintons for "embarrassing the nation." Republican allies said the first lady wanted to use the Senate seat as a stepping stone to run for president. In the end, Lazio had trouble positioning himself as anything more than just "anti-Hillary."

Clinton repeatedly sought to portray Lazio as out of step with New Yorkers, noting that he had served as a deputy whip under former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich.