I think she may just be spunky, loud and sharp enough to beat Hitlery....
August 9, 2005
High-Profile Prosecutor to Run Against Clinton
By PATRICK D. HEALY
Encouraged by New York Republican leaders and some White House officials, Jeanine F. Pirro, the charismatic Westchester County district attorney, announced yesterday that she would challenge Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton next year, and immediately accused Mrs. Clinton of using her post as a steppingstone to the presidency.
Ms. Pirro, a political moderate who supports abortion rights, gay rights and the death penalty, is seen by many Republicans in New York and Washington as their best hope of pulling off a big upset in 2006 by defeating Mrs. Clinton.
More realistically, Republicans say that Ms. Pirro's dogged style, sharp wit and telegenic presence will help them raise tens of millions of dollars and at least bruise Mrs. Clinton in advance of her possible 2008 presidential run.
In an interview, Ms. Pirro made it clear that she would elevate the Senate race into a national political event, as she criticized Mrs. Clinton's rumored presidential ambitions as much as her Senate record for the last four and a half years.
"Hillary Clinton is not running to serve the people of New York," Ms. Pirro said. "We are just a way station in her run for the presidency."
She added: "I think voters will choose the only woman who really wants the job. My full-time is a whole lot better than her part-time."
The prospect of a sharp-elbowed, well-financed challenger like Ms. Pirro, 54, is sure to intensify the national interest in the Senate race in New York, which is being closely watched by Republicans as a test of Mrs. Clinton's views and skills since her first run for the post in 2000.
Officials at the White House and the Republican National Committee have enthusiastically discussed the Senate contest with Ms. Pirro, who also met in Washington last week with Senator Elizabeth Dole, of North Carolina, the chairwoman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Ken Mehlman, the Republican National Committee's chairman, congratulated Ms. Pirro yesterday on entering the race, aides to both of them said.
Ms. Pirro also spoke with New York State party leaders. They made it clear to her campaign that they would help her raise $30 million.
"For national Republicans, this 2006 race is really about the presidency, but I don't think that's the case for the people of New York," said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster. "Clinton is so popular that Pirro can't say, 'She hasn't done a great job for New York.' The only thing you can say is, 'She can't continue doing a great job forever.' Talking about 2008 will help with fund-raising, but it's a pretty weak political argument."
Tracey Schmitt, press secretary for the Republican National Committee, said that the 2006 race would be an important opportunity to judge if Mrs. Clinton has changed her positions or tone on central issues with an eye toward 2008, and that a bold Republican challenger would hold her accountable.
"It's become very clear in the last few months that Senator Clinton is someone who is more concerned with the state of her national standing than the state of New York," Ms. Schmitt said. "It's obvious that her efforts to reposition herself as a centrist are the result of her political ambitions rather than principle."
While Ms. Pirro has been contemplating the race for months, a confluence of forces recently helped steer her toward a Senate bid and away from other races she was considering for 2006.
After Gov. George E. Pataki announced on July 27 that he would not seek a fourth term, several Republican donors and political allies urged Ms. Pirro to consider running to succeed him, according to party officials aware of the conversations. Not wanting to seem stubborn, Ms. Pirro gave it some thought, and even questioned the state party chairman, Stephen J. Minarik III, about such a bid, the officials said. By late last week, however, Ms. Pirro was again speaking to associates with renewed interest about the office that she seemed best positioned to win, state attorney general.
Yet through last week, state party officials say, Mr. Pataki and other Republicans told her that a challenge to Mrs. Clinton could reap the most rewards. If Ms. Pirro beat the current odds and won, she would become a national celebrity as a giant killer. Even in defeat, Ms. Pirro has told friends, her resulting fame could pave the way for another statewide office, or, perhaps, give her a greater role on television, where she has been a legal analyst for Fox News.
"Jeanine speculated with me last week about perhaps running for governor, but she never announced it," said Mr. Minarik, an early supporter of Ms. Pirro as a Senate candidate. "I told her that I thought she would be a great statewide candidate, but especially for Senate."
Ms. Pirro also settled on the Senate race only after concluding that the legal problems of her husband, Albert J. Pirro Jr., would not derail her; he was convicted of income tax fraud in 2000 and spent 11 months in prison in a case that involved tax returns that Ms. Pirro signed. Democrats have suggested that the Pirros' finances could be fair game, raising the possibility that the two candidates' husbands could become proxy issues in the political warfare. Yet Ms. Pirro's advisers also believe that in a Senate race, the candidates' husband issues could cancel each other out.
Republicans in Washington and New York have made it clear that they were confident they could help raise the $30 million or more to battle Mrs. Clinton, since there is still enough antipathy nationally toward the former first lady to make fund-raising "a walk in the park," as one Pirro adviser put it yesterday. Ms. Pirro's paid consultants, who stand to earn significant fees from a Senate bid, were also widely seen as supporting her entry into that race, Republican Party officials said, since they felt it was the one she originally wanted to join, instead of the races for attorney general or governor.
In three terms as district attorney, Ms. Pirro has built a national reputation as a hard-charging prosecutor of sex crimes and domestic violence cases and a proponent of Internet stings targeting suspected child molesters. Her articulate manner and appearance (she once made People magazine's most-beautiful list) have made her a frequent television commentator on Fox and other networks.
Yet she has some political obstacles to face in New York. In 2001, for instance, Ms. Pirro told an abortion rights group that she opposed a legislative ban on so-called partial-birth abortions - a position that could cost her crucial support from the state Conservative Party, said its chairman, Michael R. Long.
"Partial-birth abortion and gay marriage are deal breakers for us," Mr. Long said yesterday. "And without us, I don't think she can win for the Senate. No Republican has won statewide without our endorsement since 1974."
Three more conservative Republicans are also seeking to challenge Mrs. Clinton, including Edward F. Cox, a lawyer and son-in-law of President Richard M. Nixon, who has built the fullest political operation to date. Mr. Long praised Mr. Cox and the two others as sufficiently conservative on abortion and taxes. White House officials said yesterday that they were publicly neutral on the Republican primary race.
Ms. Pirro repeatedly declined yesterday to outline her positions on abortion, gay rights, Social Security private accounts and stem-cell research. When asked if she considered herself a Bush Republican, she declined to embrace that description, too.
"I'm going to be Jeanine Pirro - I'm not someone you can categorize as this, that or the other thing," she said.
Ms. Pirro also declined to say how she would fight back if her husband were attacked. In the past, Ms. Pirro has occasionally lost her cool defending herself or her husband, slapping her desk or shouting, and profanity is no stranger to her lexicon. Mr. Pirro's involvement in the race is not clear: he is a wealthy Republican donor, yet he is not identified in his wife's biography and on the more than 100 photos on her new campaign Web site (jeaninepirro.com).
"There's only one person's name who is going to be on the ballot, and that's Jeanine Pirro," she said.
While advisers to Mrs. Clinton were keenly awaiting word about Ms. Pirro's intentions, their official reaction was fairly muted yesterday, saying the senator would continue to focus on working for New Yorkers.
Mrs. Clinton remains the favorite to win and is widely liked in New York, while Ms. Pirro has seen her popularity decline in Westchester County. A Quinnipiac University poll last Wednesday had Mrs. Clinton leading Ms. Pirro by 63 percent to 29 percent. Yet the same poll also found that 60 percent of voters say Mrs. Clinton should pledge to serve her full six-year term if re-elected.
Hours after Ms. Pirro entered the race, state Republicans appeared to be rallying around her. Yesterday, Mr. Pataki called Ms. Pirro "an outstanding candidate," and he has told associates that she is the strongest kind of Republican to run against Mrs. Clinton - an ethnic Catholic woman from the suburbs who is moderate on social issues and espouses a hard-edged, zero-tolerance line on law enforcement and security issues. (Ms. Pirro is of Lebanese descent.)
A Clinton-Pirro race is one that New York Republicans have sought for months. In June, 46 of the 62 Republican county leaders signed a letter urging Ms. Pirro to challenge Mrs. Clinton. But Mr. Minarik emphasized yesterday that he was not sure if all 46 would endorse Ms. Pirro, and at least two Republican chairmen said they were seriously evaluating Mr. Cox. The state party hopes to settle on a Republican challenger by later this year to avoid convention and primary battles next summer.