A user's guide to New York Senate race
By Frank Buckley
This news analysis was written for CNN Interactive.
Part of the media caravan following Hillary
SOMEWHERE UPSTATE, New York (CNN) -- I write to you from the front seat of Press Van 2 in a convoy of sky-blue Econolines, cars and a boxy white satellite truck with the letters "CNN America" emblazoned upon its doors.
My companions in Press Van 2 are reporters for New York and Washington newspapers, producers for network and cable television, and a driver hired by the campaign who doesn't get the hint that when I jam my foot into the imaginary brake on my side while loudly grabbing at the dashboard (my other hand clutching my laptop) that we're not as fond of driving at the speeds and imprecision he
We sprint along State Highway 98 passing beautiful farmland, all covered in sun-sparkled snow.
It is winter. We are nine months away from Election Day. But we are covering Hillary Rodham Clinton as if the election were only days away. The amount of coverage rivals some presidential campaigns.
Clinton is making history. She is the first first lady ever to run for elective office. And she is not a native of the state she hopes to represent.
The campaign promises to be the most expensive Senate race ever, with both sides expected to raise and spend upwards of a combined $50 million.
And the opponent Clinton likely faces -- New York City's Republican mayor, Rudy Giuliani -- is among the most colorful politicians in the country.
In short, the race will be interesting and complex. And close.
The First Lady declares her candidacy for U.S. Senate
It all began in November 1998.
Shortly after the election of Democrat Charles Schumer to the U.S. Senate from New York, the state's esteemed senior senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, announced he was retiring.
New York Democrats wondered who they would run. "How about Hillary Clinton?" some began to wonder aloud.
"They were all tremendously excited about this idea last January," says Michael Tomasky, political writer for New York magazine, whose cover story on the speculation in January 1999 gave the story legs.
"It sounded like a great idea as long as it was in the realm of fantasy," Tomasky says.
But Democrats were serious. And early public opinion polls suggested that New York voters statewide were excited about the idea.
In January 1999, registered voters told the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion that they favored Clinton in a hypothetical match-up against Giuliani 52 percent to 42 percent.
New York Democratic Party leaders prevailed upon Clinton to seriously consider a run. And by July, when Clinton began her so-called "listening tour," it was a virtual certainty that she would do it.
Slicing a New York pie
What is not a certainty now is who will win.
The Marist poll that had Clinton beating Giuliani by 10 points a year ago? In the February 2000 version, Clinton trails Giuliani 47 percent to 40 percent.
But the numbers can be deceiving because New York politics can be quirky.
New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is expected to be the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate
It is a state in which registered Democrats represent 47 percent of the electorate to the Republicans' 29 percent. Yet the governor is a Republican.
It is a place where voters in the state's largest city, New York, are registered roughly 5-1 Democrat. Yet the mayor is a Republican.
Candidates running for office here are not just Democrats or just Republicans.
A candidate running as a Republican might also be listed on the ballot as the candidate of the Right to Life line, the Conservative Party line and the Independence Party line (the Reform Party in New York). A Democrat might also garner the Liberal line and the Independence line. That means mainstream party candidates can pick up a few more votes from outside the mainstream parties.
The Conservative, Liberal and Independence parties together represent only about 4 percent of the electorate. But these tiny pieces of the pie can add up in a close election.
For Giuliani or Clinton, those voters could be the difference between victory or defeat in November.
Where do things stand now?
Clinton has declared as the Democrat. Giuliani has not formally declared but has said he is running; he is expected to be the Republican. The third parties have not yet chosen their candidates.
The Conservative Party's chairman, Michael Long, said this week that it had no plans at the moment to support Giuliani.
"I think I would rather that he didn't run," Long said.
Giuliani, you see, ran for mayor as a Republican-Liberal. His views on issues such as abortion, gun control and gay rights are more in line with those of voters who might label themselves liberal.
On the other hand, it's possible that Clinton, whom critics are quick to call a liberal, may not get the Liberal Party line because its leader is a strong supporter of Rudy Giuliani.
Miles to go
There is also the issue of geography in this race.
New York is a state of 49,576 square miles. It can take more than an hour to fly from one end of the state to the other.
The people who live in upstate New York have a Midwestern sensibility that is in stark contrast to the no-nonsense attitude of New York City residents downstate.
Upstate tends to go Republican in the rural areas. But upstate cities such as Buffalo, Rochester and Albany voted for Democrat Chuck Schumer in 1998.
Downstate -- chiefly considered New York City with its nearly 8 million residents -- is dominated by registered Democrats. The New York City suburbs can be a battleground won by either party.
But all of the what-ifs are a bit early. After all, it's not November 2000. It is winter, with spring, summer and fall to go. Fasten your seatbelts and grab hold of your laptops. Press Van 2 is just starting to roll.
CNN Interactive: Analysis
CNN Interactive: AllPolitics
Hillary Rodham Clinton, First Lady of the United States
Office of the Mayor, New York City: Rudolph Guiliani
New York State
Marist College Institute for Public Opinion
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