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Thursday, 14 September, 2000, 05:37 GMT 06:37 UK
Analysis: Lazio gambles on aggression
Rick Lazio Republican candidate vs Hilary Clinton Democratic candidate for New York State
The gloves were off soon after the niceties
By Paul Reynolds in Washington

In a sizzling first debate between the Senate candidates for New York, Republican congressman Rick Lazio unleashed himself like an attack dog against First Lady Hillary Clinton.

Time and again he snapped and barked, presenting himself as the "New Yorker" and her as someone from the hick state of Arkansas.

What went down in Little Rock, he sneered at one moment, would not work in the Big Apple.

In the face of this onslaught, Mrs Clinton tried to remain cool and poised but she was thrown on two occasions.

Lewinsky surprise

The first was when the moderator, an experienced Washington interviewer, Tim Russert, dragged out the Monica Lewinsky affair and asked her why she had blamed a right wing conspiracy when it was her husband who was to blame.

Hillary Clinton hesitated - it was a painful memory and a painful moment for her.

She mumbled on about not knowing the truth. Mr Lazio did not show sympathy; far from it - he did not let go.

The event, he declared, went to the issue of character and trust and showed that Mrs Clinton typically blamed others, something, he loftily declared which New Yorkers rejected.

Lazio punch

The other wobbly moment for the First Lady was a deft move by the young congressman who strode up to her podium with a document he said was an agreement not to use so called "soft money", that is, unregulated contributions, in television advertisements.

Mrs Clinton had her answer - she wanted a similar pledge from Lazio on "independent" money supporting his campaign but she didn't quite know how to handle this upstart puppy and fell back on shaking his hand.

Rick Lazio New York Republican candidate for senate
Lazio played hardball

Mr Lazio's language reflected his style. He used words and phrases like "disaster" and "beyond shameless" and "positively Clintonesque" and "height of hypocrisy" about her.

He was ruthless in trying to taint her with President Clinton's failings while accusing her of trying to make him guilty by association with the former Republican right wing leader Newt Gingrich.

Mrs Clinton did several times dismiss Mr Lazio as a Gingrich cheerleader but was less aggressive in tone and tried to concentrate on some of the issues like education and health.

The question for New Yorkers will be, did they like the aggression shown by the congressman? Or might they think he was just an untrained young dog and most unsenatorial?

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See also:

14 Sep 00 | Americas
Hillary attacked in TV debate
13 Sep 00 | Americas
Hillary faces TV debate
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Rick Lazio: NY underdog
17 Jan 00 | Vote USA 2000
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