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Monday, August 08, 2005

Pirro to Challenge Senator Clinton in 2006 - New York Times

Pirro to Challenge Senator Clinton in 2006 - New York TimesAugust 8, 2005
Pirro to Challenge Senator Clinton in 2006
By PATRICK D. HEALY

Jeanine F. Pirro, a moderate Republican and high-profile district attorney of Westchester County, said today that she would challenge Hillary Rodham Clinton for her United States Senate seat in 2006.

"I am running against Hillary Clinton because New York State deserves a senator who will give her all to the people of New York for a full term, who will not miss votes to campaign in (presidential) primaries," Ms. Pirro said in a statement.

"When Mrs. Clinton first came to us and said she wanted to be a New Yorker, she asked New York to put out a welcome mat and we did," Ms. Pirro added. "But now she wants us to re-elect her even though she won't promise to serve out her term and wants to use us as a springboard to the presidency. She's asking us to become her doormat. I believe we deserve better."

Ms. Pirro, who has been openly considering the race since May, informed the New York State party chairman, Stephen J. Minarik, and other top Republicans of her decision last night, a Republican Party official said. Ms. Pirro will formally announce her decision on Wednesday during campaign stops across the state; her advisers had already reserved the park next to the state Capitol in Albany for one leg of the tour Wednesday afternoon.

In three terms as district attorney, Ms. Pirro, 53, 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 tough talk, quick wit, and good looks have made her a frequent commentator on Fox News and cable television shows.

A Clinton-Pirro race is one that Mr. Minarik and some other Republicans have sought for months: They believe that a battle-tested Republican woman from the suburbs like the Elmira-born Ms. Pirro, who is also a centrist on some social issues like abortion rights and gay rights, would be best matched against Mrs. Clinton and have the broadest appeal for New York voters.

Mr. Minarik has been publicly rooting for Ms. Pirro to run for Senate since last spring, and Republican Party officials have said that the White House's political office is high on a Pirro candidacy. But this favoritism has roiled the party, angering the only declared Republican candidate, Ed Cox, a lawyer who is Richard Nixon's son-in-law, as well as some county Republican leaders who do not want to see a Cox candidacy waylaid by a party coronation of Ms. Pirro.

White House officials have said they do not have a preference between Ms. Pirro and Mr. Cox, although, when speaking on condition of anonymity, they have volunteered that Ms. Pirro would be a strong candidate and that Mr. Cox would be good as well. Ms. Pirro is also good friends with Gov. George E. Pataki, a Republican, who he has not expressed a preference other than encouraging her to run for statewide office next year.

Ms. Pirro brings some potential liabilities to the race, political analysts say and Republicans acknowledge. Westchester Democrats have criticized her management of the district attorney's office, and just last week, state party members criticized her over revelations that her office laid off six prosecutors in 2003 because of budget cuts even as it paid $43,920 in overtime to her sole driver and bodyguard

More serious, some analysts say, is the shadow that Mr. Pirro's husband, Albert J. Pirro Jr., has cast over her political career for nearly two decades. Democrats say she is vulnerable to questions of judgment in her relationship with Mr. Pirro, who was convicted of income tax fraud in 2000 and served 11 months in prison.

Ms. Pirro was not charged with any wrong-doing in the tax fraud case, but some Westchester Democrats were skeptical when she said she did not know about the improprieties in the couple's finances even though she was partly the beneficiary of them.

More recently, a reputed mobster has claimed that Mr. Pirro passed along sensitive information about a criminal case in Ms. Pirro's office. Mr. Pirro has denied the allegation and filed a defamation suit.

Ms. Pirro has long fired back that she is her "own person," and that voters today are too sophisticated to penalize a female candidate at the ballot box for her husband's problems. Advisers to Ms. Pirro have argued that the so-called "Al issue" would be canceled out in the Senate race by Mrs. Clinton's own marital issues in the past with former President Bill Clinton. Democrats have scoffed at that suggestion, saying Ms. Pirro's knowledge about her husband's illegal affairs raise legitimate questions for voters.

Mrs. Clinton remains the heavy favorite to win next year's Senate race, according to polls of voters statewide. A poll by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute had Mrs. Clinton leading Ms. Pirro by 63 percent to 29 percent.

The entry of Ms. Pirro, who had also been weighing a bid for governor or state attorney general next year, now sets up the likelihood of a primary fight between her and Mr. Cox.

Since creating a Senate exploratory committee in June, Mr. Cox has hired several full-time staff members, raised money statewide and nationally, won tacit promises of endorsements from some county party leaders, and recruited Republican luminaries like Henry Kissinger to advise him. Mr. Cox, who describes himself as a conservative and opposes abortion rights, plans to formally announce his plans in September.

Also considering the Republican primary race for Senate are former Yonkers Mayor John Spencer and William Brenner, a tax attorney from Sullivan County.

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