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Sen. Clinton's GOP challenger quits race

Pirro plans to run for New York state attorney general

From Phil Hirschkorn

Prosecutor Jeanine Pirro is expected to announce the switch Wednesday, GOP officials say.


New York
U.S. Senate
Jeanine Pirro
Hillary Rodham Clinton

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Jeanine Pirro, the longtime prosecutor who had been set to run against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton next year, has decided to drop out of the U.S. Senate race in New York, she announced Wednesday.

Pirro instead will run for state attorney general.

"I have decided that my law enforcement background better qualifies me for a race for New York State Attorney General than a race for the United States Senate," Pirro said in a statement. "I have concluded that my head and my heart remain in law enforcement, and that my public service should continue to be in that arena."

A Pirro adviser said the attorney general position "is the job that she really wants to do. She's more familiar with the issues. That's what it comes down to."

Party officials said that the candidate already has discussed her plans with state party officials -- state Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, who publicly called for her to change races, and Gov. George Pataki, who had endorsed Pirro when she entered the race in August.

Pataki's endorsement caused Pirro's main rival for the Republican nomination, Ed Cox, 58, son-in-law of former President Nixon, to suspend his campaign. Cox has been considering a return to the race.

Pirro, 54, is in her third elected term as district attorney in affluent Westchester County, north of New York City.

When she announced that she would not seek a fourth term, she said she would run for statewide office -- either for governor, to succeed Pataki, who is stepping down after three terms, or attorney general, to succeed Eliot Spitzer, the leading Democratic candidate for governor, or for U.S. Senate against Clinton.

When Pirro launched the Senate bid against the Democrat, her announcement speech was marred by an embarrassing 30-second silence after she lost a page of her prepared remarks. Then her fundraising got off to a slow start, raising less than $500,000 in her first month.

A majority of 62 Republican county chairs meeting last week in Albany announced their belief that Pirro should quit the Senate race but did not agree on a substitute candidate.

Clinton, 58, is seeking re-election for the first time. She had nearly $14 million in her campaign coffers as of September 30. Her next Federal Election Commission report will have year-end figures. She spent $30 million in her 2000 race.

"I have to make sure that I am running as fast and hard as I can, because I know that the other side has got lots of resources and will eventually determine who's going to run against me." Sen. Clinton quipped at a Manhattan fundraiser last week headlined by her husband, former President Clinton.

"We know at some point the Republicans will sort out this process and choose a nominee," said Clinton adviser Howard Wolfson. "In the meantime, Sen. Clinton will continue focusing on being the best senator she can be and delivering for the people of New York."

A Quinnipiac University poll released last week found Pirro would lose to Clinton 62 percent to 30 percent if the election were held then. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Bruno said, "The decision is in the best interests of everybody."

He said Pirro's record on crime made her a great candidate for attorney general, citing her prosecution of Internet pedophiles and use of DNA technology to get convictions.

"I give her a lot of credit for stepping up and making this decision, which has to be very, very difficult for her," Bruno said.

Beside Cox, conservative John Spencer, former mayor of Yonkers, New York's fourth most populous city, has launched a bid to be the Republican candidate.

Spencer, 59, a Vietnam veteran, opposes abortion rights, gun control and affirmative action, "a clear contrast to Sen. Clinton's views," according to his campaign.

Two well-known Democrats already are competing for the attorney general's job -- Andrew Cuomo, the former U.S. housing secretary who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2002, and Mark Green, the former New York City public advocate who lost the 2001 mayor's race to Michael Bloomberg.

The Quinnipiac poll also found Pirro would lose to Cuomo and Green.

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