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Lazio suspends Senate plans

August 11, 1999
Web posted at: 5:34 p.m. EDT (2134 GMT)

ALBANY, New York (CNN) -- At the behest of New York Gov. George Pataki, Rep. Rick Lazio put his nascent GOP campaign for the Senate on hold Wednesday as New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani considers the race.

At a news conference Wednesday, the Long Island Republican said he is not completely withdrawing from the Senate race, keeping his options open in case the mayor decides against running for the seat being vacated next year by Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

"I'm not leaving this race. We are keeping our powder dry," he said.

Lazio
Rep. Lazio is expected to announce that his is suspending his Senate campaign  

Lazio put Giuliani on notice, saying he would only put his campaign on hold until August 31 to see if Giuliani enters the race. If Giuliani has not made up his mind, Lazio he said he would ask Pataki to "re-evaluate his position."

"I am the better candidate. I am ready to get into this race, but I am doing right now what is in the best interests of the Republican Party. I don't agree with Governor Pataki here but I am doing this out of respect for him," Lazio said.

If Lazio doesn't run it would allow Giuliani to concentrate completely on the likely Democratic opponent in the general election, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. Clinton, who has not officially announced she is running, is not likely to face any opposition in the Democratic primary.

Lazio said he was "not closing any doors" regarding the Senate race or seeking a fifth term in the House. He described his move as the response of a loyal Republican. "I am doing this for the good of the party," he said.

Pataki praised Lazio for his actions. "Rick Lazio has done the right thing for himself, for his party and for New York state," he said. "As I said last week, he is a rising star with a bright future."

In a blow to Lazio's aspirations, Pataki endorsed Giuliani last week for the Senate seat, saying Giuliani had earned the right to be the nominee. Pataki also asked Lazio to defer his candidacy until Giuliani formally decides if he is a candidate, saying it was "critically important to our future that we have a unified party and elect a Republican senator in the year 2000."

Lazio had originally scheduled a Senate campaign launch announcement on August 16. Lazio, 41, has served four terms in the House of Representatives.

"If the mayor wants to be a candidate, I think he needs to get into this race." Lazio said. "It's time to put the soap opera aside and step up to the plate."

Pataki's endorsement of Giuliani was designed to avoid a potentially bitter GOP primary that would have been both politically and financially expensive. The governor had been under pressure from some national and New York GOP leaders to use his muscle to keep Lazio out of the race on the grounds that Giuliani would be a stronger Republican candidate.

The better-known Giuliani would have been the likely favorite in a Republican primary against Lazio. Each man has raised more than $3 million toward a possible race.

Pataki's endorsement also was a major shift in relations between Pataki and Giuliani, which have been strained since 1994 when the mayor crossed party lines to endorse then-Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo. Pataki won that race.

Giuliani
If Lazio stayed in the race, he would have faced a challenge from New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani  

At an appearance in Cooperstown in upstate New York Wednesday, Giuliani was asked about Lazio's August 31 deadline and replied: "I think the most graceful thing for me to do is not say anything about that."

Reminded that state GOP Chairman William Powers also suggested that date, Giuliani said, "I'm great at resisting pressure." When asked by an audience member whether or not he would run, he replied only: "It looks that way."

On Tuesday, Giuliani warned that "everybody has escalated this election way too fast. People are going to be really bored with it in about three months if we don't slow it down a little."

Powers, a Pataki ally and Giuliani booster, said Tuesday that he has encouraged Giuliani to announce his candidacy before the end of August. By not declaring his candidacy early, Powers said he fears that the mayor could hurt his money-raising efforts for a race in which Mrs. Clinton's backers have set a fund-raising target of $25 million.

Lazio already has raised $3.1 million for the race, compared to Giuliani's $2.6 million. A third potential GOP candidate, Rep. Peter King of Nassau County has raised $487,596. The Democrats have set a fund-raising target of $25 million for the Senate race.

Democrats said Tuesday that Lazio was a victim of Pataki's desire to please Republican presidential front-runner Texas Gov. George W. Bush and enhance his own chances of winning the vice presidential spot on the GOP national ticket next year by forging Republican unity in New York.

"It's very telling that after months of talking, Rick Lazio is not much more than a Pataki lackey, allowing the governor's vice presidential ambitions to trump the congressman's," said Matthew Hiltzik, a spokesman for state Democratic Chairwoman Judith Hope.

Hillary Rodham Clinton
First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton is the likely Democratic candidate  

While both Mrs. Clinton and the mayor have formed Senate exploratory committees and are raising money for their possible Senate bids, neither has formally announced their candidacies.

Mrs. Clinton visited New York City Tuesday and ended the first round of her Senate exploratory campaign's "listening tour," launched five weeks ago.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


CAMPAIGN 2000

First lady says she's nearly committed to Senate race (9-22-99)

Delaware governor to challenge Roth (9-21-99)

One poll has Giuliani leading Mrs. Clinton, second has race a tie (9-16-99)

First lady criticizes Congress over tax cut, campaign finance (9-15-99)

Democrats say travel reimbursement provision aimed at first lady (9-15-99)

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Who's in, who's out in the 2000 Senate races


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