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Potential Clinton challenger makes it official

Pirro launches Senate bid, says New York is Clinton's 'doormat'

From Phil Hirschkorn
CNN New York Bureau

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Hillary Rodham Clinton
Jeanine Pirro
New York
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- The potential Republican challenger to Sen. Hillary Clinton's first re-election bid said Wednesday that the former first lady is using New York as a doormat to return to the White House.

In a speech formally launching her Senate campaign, Jeanine Pirro aimed to turn Clinton's popularity among Democrats nationwide into a liability on Election Day 2006, still 15 months away.

"New York deserves a senator who will give her all to the people of New York for a whole term, full time, and not miss votes to campaign in the 2008 presidential primaries," Pirro said.

The state would be better served by a senator "who has New York's interests at heart, not the divided loyalties of one seeking to satisfy the needs of the people in Florida, New Hampshire and Iowa," Pirro said.

Neither Clinton nor a number of other prominent Democrats favored in early polls have announced their intentions regarding the 2008 presidential race.

Her opponents are pressing her to pledge to serve all six years of a second Senate term, which would last until 2012.

Clinton effectively removed herself from the list of 2004 presidential candidates when she pledged to her adopted home state in 2000 to serve a full term.

"She asked us to put out a welcome mat, and New York did. But now she wants to use New York as a doormat to the White House," Pirro said.

"If Hillary wants to be president, she should he honest with herself and her constituents and say so."

Pirro, 54, serving her third elected term as district attorney in affluent Westchester County, just north of New York City, has her own liability -- her husband, Albert, who served 17 months of a 29-month prison sentence for tax fraud.

Leaving prison in 2002, Albert Pirro spent six of the 17 months in a halfway house and was released early because of good behavior and finishing a drug and alcohol treatment program.

"One person's name is going to be on the ballot. That's mine," Pirro said. She said she expects her husband, who was absent Wednesday, to campaign for her, along with their two children.

"I love my family. But I am a woman who is a strong, independent woman who has a record that she is proud of, 30 years in law enforcement. And I am certainly not an ingenue who is running for office for the first time," Pirro said, citing her prosecutions of identity thieves, child pornographers, polluters, gang members and abusive family members.

"I expect to be judged, and I deserve to be judged based upon my record and my record alone," she said.

New York Democratic Committee Chairman Denny Farrell said Clinton's popularity is an undeniable asset.

"Jeanine Pirro is neither well-known nor popular," he said. "In fact, she almost lost her last election for district attorney and chose not to run this year because she knew she would probably lose.

"In contrast, Senator Clinton is phenomenally popular throughout New York state and is doing a great job for New York," Farrell said.

Pirro's differences with Clinton

Pirro, originally from Elmira, attended college in Buffalo and law school in Albany. After her speech she began a three-day campaign tour in those and other upstate cities.

A moderate Republican, Pirro noted her policy differences with Clinton, saying that she would support making President Bush's tax-rate cuts permanent and eliminating the estate tax. Clinton has voted against those moves.

Pirro also said that while she generally supports abortion rights, unlike Clinton she would have voted to ban the late-term abortion procedure, which is called partial-birth abortion by its opponents.

Pirro said she was not prepared to offer a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, where thousands of New York-based enlistees and National Guard members are.

"I certainly would leave that up to the experts who understand the military and what we need to do. The most important thing we can do is finish the job that we went over there to start," she said in a remark likely to draw criticism from Clinton, who is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Before she can have the opportunity to face Clinton next November, Pirro needs to secure the Republican nomination.

Pirro could face Cox

Attorney Ed Cox, 58, a son-in-law of former President Richard Nixon, last month launched an exploratory committee for the race, his first. (Full story)

A one-time Reagan administration official and activist in New York politics, Cox favors the ban on the late-term abortion procedure and has accused Pirro of flip-flopping on the issue. Past statements by Pirro indicated she opposed the ban.

"One's position should be guided on a strong personal conviction, not political opportunism. Ed Cox has always favored a ban on this abhorrent procedure," said campaign spokesman Thomas Basile.

Because registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the state 5-to-3, whoever wins the Republican nomination often relies on the support of the state's small Conservative Party, which opposes abortion, to get elected.

A senior campaign adviser to Pirro, Michael McKeon, said Pirro has the support of 46 of the state's 62 Republican county chairman and is not worried about a tough primary.

"Do I look worried," McKeon asked after the Pirro announcement, with a smile on his face. "We'll have all the money we'll need for this race."

In 2000 Clinton spent $30 million on her campaign, but her opponents raised and spent double that amount -- $20 million on behalf of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who dropped out because of prostate cancer; and $40 million for former congressman Rick Lazio.

Pirro bristled at the notion that Republicans recruited her as a sacrificial lamb to "bloody up" Clinton before a potential presidential run.

"My job is to make sure that the people of New York understand the issues, and that the people of New York have full time representation in the Senate. I am not in this to bloody anybody up," Pirro said.

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