Lazio Goes Negative In <i>Positive</i>

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The CBS News Political Unit is tracking the latest campaign commercials. Francesca Gessner looks at the latest Lazio ad attacking opponent Hillary Rodham Clinton, paradoxically entitled 'Positive'.

The Ad: New York Republican Senate candidate Congressman Rick Lazio has released a new TV ad titled Positive. The 30-second ad attacks his opponent Hillary Clinton for running a negative campaign and distorting Lazio's voting record, charging "Hillary Clinton - You just can't trust her." Positive is in response to Clinton's most recent TV ad, called Won't See, that attacks Lazio's votes on a range of issues, including Medicare and prescription drug coverage. The ad is running throughout New York state.

Audio: Announcer: "Compare: Congressman Rick Lazio is running a positive campaign about his accomplishments for New York. Hillary Clinton is running a negative campaign because she's done nothing for New York. Her new ad contains five gross distortions in just 30 seconds. Rick Lazio has voted to support Medicare and for prescription drugs. Look it up - it's all there in the Congressional Record. Hillary Clinton - you just can't trust her."

Visual: Rick Lazio and Hillary Clinton appear on top of the screen, with their corresponding commercials running underneath them. Underneath the Lazio ad is a blue graphic reading "Positive", while underneath Clinton's, a red graphic reading "Negative." Then the text, "Five gross distortions in 30 seconds" comes down over the Clinton commercial. We then see a Lazio graphic on top with "Support Medicare" (HR 3075 and H Con. Res. 84-6/5/97) and "For Prescription Drugs"(HR 4680-6/28/00) written underneath, and a graphic of a Congressional Record's letterhead at the bottom of the screen. The corresponding citations for each vote appear underneath after a few seconds. The ad ends with a black screen and white lettering: "Hillary Clinton. You Just Can't Trust Her. Paid For By Lazio 2000."

Fact check: Positive accuses Clinton's ad of making "five gross distortions" but focuses on two - Medicare and prescription drugs. Clinton's ad attacked Lazio for voting in 1995 to cut Medicare by $270 billion. Lazio's campaign says he has voted to reduce the rate of growth of Medicare, which is not really a "cut," and last year voted to restore Medicare funding cuts made in 1997 at a cost of about $12 billion over five years. Regarding Lazio's support for prescription drug coverage, Lazio voted for a Republican plan that would give private insurers incentives to provide prescription drug coverage to Medicare recipients. Lazio voted against the Democratic plan (which Clinton supports) that would expand Medicare to include prescription drug coverage for all Medicare recipients. As for negative campaigning, Clinton's campaign points out that Lazio startehis campaign on the attack in his nomination acceptance speech and since then has sent negative fund-raising letters, such as one saying the Clintons have "embarrassed our country."

The Strategy: With Positive, Rick Lazio attempts a double-whammy: to defend himself as the victim of negative campaigning while simultaneously going on the attack. The ad seeks to make Hillary Clinton's character a central issue in the New York Senate race, as exemplified by the tag line, "Hillary Clinton - you just can't trust her." The focus on Clinton's credibility and trustworthiness reflects an attempt to link Hillary to her husband's dishonesty. Not only is Hillary portrayed as a dishonest candidate, the ad charges she goes on the attack because she has "done nothing for New York." The move to focus on Hillary's character and integrity comes on the heels of polls showing that Clinton has pulled ahead in recent weeks in the wake of the Democratic convention and Al Gore's improved standing in New York state. Finally, Positive seeks to defend Lazio's voting record on two hot-button senior issues he cannot afford to cede to Clinton: Medicare and prescription drug coverage.