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Sunday, 22 October, 2000, 08:40 GMT 09:40 UK
Hillary eyes New York victory
Mrs Clinton at a New York Women for Hillary event in New York
Women have warmed to Hillary Clinton
By Jane Hughes in New York

When she said she was running for Senate in New York last year, Hillary Clinton's critics said she could never win, but it's beginning to look as if she's going to prove them all wrong.

She's making inroads into upstate New York which is traditionally more Republican

Pollster, Lee Miringoff
The first lady has established a steady lead in the polls, and now even the fiercest Clinton haters acknowledge that she could be about to make history by becoming the first president's wife ever to win elected office.

When I spent a couple of days out on the road with her it was easy to see why.

Clutching a paper coffee cup, New York style, and plunging into a crowd at an Italian-American parade she exuded confidence.

Flanked by her ubiquitous stony-faced Secret Service agents, she reached out to clasp hand after hand, thanked people for their support, and even conveyed a touch of her husband's magnetism.

Women's vote

"She's for the people, she's for women, she's for education, she's for healthcare, that's what New York's about," enthused one supporter.

Al Gore and Hillary LCinton
Al Gore looks for a First Lady fillip
It's a far cry from the icy reception many New Yorkers used to give her. Until recently, she was derided as an over-ambitious outsider who was using the senate race as a stepping stone to higher office.

Women in particular accused her of being brittle, cold and unlikeable.

A couple of hours later, at a chic $250-a-plate lunch of "Women for Hillary", there's little sign of those reservations now. Marsha Owens, a psychiatric nurse, says she's been won over by what she's seen recently of the first lady.

"I see her as stronger, more dedicated, more energised," she says. "She's someone who really fights for children's rights, someone who really thinks for everybody, someone who perseveres when things are down."

[Republican candidate] Rick Lazio's a grave disappointment

Norman Adler, Republican political consultant
"She's starting to open up a narrow lead and she's inching ahead," says Lee Miringoff, a pollster. Two recent polls have put her above the crucial 50% support mark, and he says that's down to her hard work.

"She's getting a very strong vote from the democratic base in New York City, but she's also making inroads into upstate New York which is traditionally more Republican."

Lazio letdown

Rick Lazio, her Republican opponent, on the other hand, is looking less and less confident.

Rick Lazio
Rick Lazio's campaign has been lacklustre
Venturing out in the rain to canvass support near Wall Street, the crowd that gathered to see him was small and somewhat half-hearted. He entered the race five months ago, when New York's Mayor Rudolph Giuliani pulled out, and he hasn't lived up to expectations.

"He's a grave disappointment," says Norman Adler, a Republican political consultant.

"People had hopes that he'd bring youth and charisma and the attraction that he was a real New Yorker to this race, and he hasn't realised any of those." He also believes the Republican hopeful took to the campaign road far too late.

On the road

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has been criss-crossing New York state for the last year and a half, and it's paying off.

Hillary and Bill Clinton
Hillary has escaped being tarnished by her husband's problems in office
After lunch, she heads for a rally in the rural town of Verplanck, a traditionally Republican heartland, and receives a celebrity's welcome.

"I don't care where she's originally from," says Bill Seidel, who's lived in the area all his life. "She lives here now, and she's the best person we could possibly have. She gets my vote."

Though there are still people all over America who loath her simply for being a Clinton; though there's still more than a fortnight to go, and it's not in the bag yet - it's beginning to look as if Hillary Clinton is about to make history.

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See also:

09 Oct 00 | Americas
Hillary, Lazio in second face off
22 Sep 00 | Americas
Hillary pulls ahead in New York
19 Oct 00 | Americas
The race for the Senate
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