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Lance Morrow: In New York, the Clinton luck vs. the Oprah Advantage

May 19, 2000
Web posted at: 11:42 AM EDT (1542 GMT)

( -- It would be grotesque to refer to Rudy Giuliani's prostate cancer, or his domestic mess, as Hillary Rodham Clinton's luck. But politics sometimes works in grotesque ways.

Previous Columns by Lance Morrow

Of course, Giuliani may yet remain in the New York Senate race -- for which he has not formally announced. He may even win. He could call himself the Comeback Kid.

Judging by Giuliani's sympathetic performance in a televised interview with NBC's Andrea Mitchell Thursday night at New York's 92nd St. Y, I would say that the mayor now has what might be called the Oprah Advantage -- the ineffably powerful synergy of confession, vulnerability and mawkishness that made Princess Diana, for example, such an emotional success in the world.

But it is impossible to see, just now, how this New Rudy will play out. The Rudy v. Hillary story (which has unusual interest, for a Senate race, because of the first lady's role in it) has an equally interesting dimension as a test of the supernatural Clinton luck.

That luck has carried the president sunnily through scandals, lurid humiliations, the fires of impeachment -- enough mess to drive any other president to seppuku. But does the luck work for both of them? Inexhaustibly so, it seems. Either somebody up there likes the Clintons, or they have made a Faustian bargain. Consider this latest manifestation, and how the story unfolds:

Hillary Rodham Clinton purchases a house in a large eastern state where she has never lived before. Presumably, she could have chosen to move to any one of the 50 states in order to start her post-presidential -- that is to say, pre-presidential -- career.

But New York happens to be the home of her beloved Yankees, the baseball team for which she has cherished a passion during all the years of exile in Chicago, Wellesley, New Haven and Little Rock. And, conveniently, a Senate seat happens to be open in New York. Hillary barnstorms around upstate counties for a few weeks -- "listening," as she puts it -- and then announces she is running for the job.

Her opponent, by brilliant casting, is the finger-wagging, candle-snuffing, take-no-prisoners mayor of New York -- controversial, superbly effective, much hated in certain quarters. The polls show a close race; Hillary and Rudy both provoke passionate reactions, pro and con, and have obdurate followings in the 40 percent-plus range. Hillary, politically tone-deaf, makes a neophyte's stupid mistakes. The carpetbagger issue seems only to get worse for her as the months pass. Dark clouds move in. A surprising number of women in both parties confess to being allergic to Hillary.

Then fate, deus ex machina, bizarrely intervenes. Behold: The formidable Giuliani implodes. Troubles descend upon him in an avalanche -- not all the sorrows of Job, but a few of them. Giuliani is diagnosed with prostate cancer. His marriage of many years cracks apart, and he handles it maladroitly, announcing the breakup to the world without bothering to tell his wife that the marriage is over. His affair with another woman becomes a feast for tabloids. The private Rudy seems to shriek confirmation of his enemies' suspicions about the public Rudy.

The rest of the Republican Party is furious at him. He has lost the asset of his moral clarity -- his most effective weapon against Hillary. Whatever authority his moralism possessed has vanished almost overnight. Strange. Giuliani's career seems to have self-demolished.

And all that Hillary Rodham Clinton needs to do is to stand aside and, on the subject of male misbehaviors, remain decorously silent, as she did during the long months of Lewinsky that gave her such complex gravitas. Maybe. It remains to be seen which will ultimately prove to be more powerful -- the Clinton luck or the Oprah Advantage.

Copyright © 2000 Time Inc.


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