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The BBC's Stephen Sackur
"New York politics is not polite, it's a scrap"
 real 56k

Thursday, 14 September, 2000, 11:36 GMT 12:36 UK
Hillary attacked in TV debate
Rick Lazio and Hillary Clinton
The clash was as heated as expected
Sparks have flown during the first televised debate between rival New York senate candidates Hillary Clinton and her Republican opponent Rick Lazio.

Mrs Clinton accused Mr Lazio of supporting right-wing Republicanism at the expense of the needs of the state.

But Mr Lazio - a Congressman from Long Island - fought back, and accused her of being untrustworthy and an outsider.

Despite the highly charged nature of the debate, neither candidate emerged as a clear winner and the Senate race appears as close as ever.

Defending himself against allegations of ultra-conservative sympathies, and in particular having close links to the former Congress speaker Newt Gingrich, Mr Lazio played up his close connections to New York.

"At the heart of the campaign are two critical issues, character and trust ... My opponent has talked and talked, but she's done nothing for New York. I've delivered for New York," Mr Lazio said.

But Mrs Clinton countered: "I didn't cast the votes that Newt Gingrich asked me to cast ... If you had a record, you wouldn't need to use Newt Gingrich."

'Guilt by association'

Hilary Clinton Vs Rick Lazio
Lazio made theatre out of campaign finance

Rick Lazio also seized an early opportunity to refer to the Monica Lewinsky affair, and accused Mrs Clinton of guilt by association with her husband.

When questioned directly about it, she showed a rare glimpse of vulnerability, saying it had been a very painful time for her, and that she still could not look at it from the perspective of history.

She also said when news of the affair first emerged, she did not know the truth behind the accusations.

Rick Lazio and Hillary Clinton
The first lady applauded Mr Lazio's "a wonderful performance"

But for the most part she maintained her poise, even when her opponent pulled a contract out of his pocket and asked her to sign an agreement not to accept so-called soft money or unregulated campaign contributions.

She hammered away at Mr Lazio's record, painting him as a right-wing Republican who would not look after the interests of New York.

He accused her of being an opportunist, though Mrs Clinton countered that she has a lot to offer the state even though she is not from New York.

Hillary 'waltzing'

One political consultant thinks Mrs Clinton narrowly won the showdown.

He's not nearly as articulate and poised as Hillary Clinton

Debate viewer
"Lazio stumbled, Hillary didn't," said Hank Scheinkopf, speaking to the BBC.

"Hillary was waltzing very well, and having exact steps, and Lazio was stepping on his partner's feet," he said.

Other analysts say neither candidate emerged the victor, with Rick Lazio still lacking in gravitas and Hillary Clinton lacking in warmth.

Customers in a New York bar watched the debate with glee, but there seemed little consensus amongst them either over who emerged the victor.

"She's giving the same kind of answers we expect from her and her husband's administration," said one customer.

"He's not nearly as articulate and poised as Hillary Clinton," said another.

Their next two debates promise to be interesting affairs.

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See also:

13 Sep 00 | Americas
Hillary faces TV debate
20 May 00 | Americas
Rick Lazio: NY underdog
17 Jan 00 | Vote USA 2000
Hillary bites the Big Apple
12 Sep 00 | Americas
Women find fault with Hillary
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