Most New Yorkers have already decided who to vote for, and hate the other candidate, but the media loves the race. Welcome to Rudy vs. Hillary.
NEW YORK -- They have ascended to a realm where there are no surnames; they are Rudy and Hillary, joined in tabloid headlines as glossy as the lights of Manhattan's Broadway theater marquees.
New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, everyday combatants in New York's U.S. Senate race, took a break yesterday from whacking each other. They sat a few feet away in the hushed reverence of St. Patrick's Cathedral, mourning Cardinal John O'Connor along with some 3,500 others.
So far, it has taken cancer -- Giuliani's -- and O'Connor's death to turn down the volume on the negative attack-and-response campaign in the nation's gaudiest, grittiest and probably most expensive U.S. Senate election of 2000.
The polls show it too close to call, with very few voters -- only about 10 percent -- undecided. But Mrs. Clinton has gained a bit in recent weeks. Polls show her winning big in the city Giuliani has governed since 1994, but behind in the suburbs and rural parts of New York.
And the focus has shifted to Giuliani, diagnosed recently with prostate cancer, a disease that killed his father. He must make a decision soon -- probably by the end of next week, aides say -- on whether to remain in the race. So far, he has been saying he will stay.
In this election, the line between entertainment and substance in politics -- often a thin strand in this show-biz and advertising mecca -- erodes a bit more with every news cycle. Giuliani-Clinton is politics as a running television series, a sort of soap opera of state.
The latest scene is the daily reporter-and-camera stakeout outside the Upper East Side apartment building where Judith Nathan lives. Giuliani describes Nathan, who is 45 and divorced, as a "very good friend." She has been alternately posing for pictures and pleading for privacy. (A New York Post columnist referred to her as Rudy's "brunette cutie.")
After Giuliani disclosed his "friendship" with Nathan, with whom he has been seen occasionally for a year or so, Giuliani's wife, Donna Hanover, a television personality and actress, decided it was time to stand by her man.
So Hanover met with reporters outside St. Patrick's Cathedral Saturday and vowed to "be supportive of Rudy and his fight against his illness as this marriage and this man have been very precious to me."
That Giuliani had been spending time with another woman came as no surprise: he and his wife have led separate lives for several years; Hanover didn't campaign for him during his 1997 mayoral reelection, and Giuliani no longer wears a wedding ring. A media poll showed two-thirds of voters said the disclosure would have no impact on their leanings toward his candidacy.
Some political analysts think that the cancer and girlfriend news may sand some of the rough edges off Giuliani's personality, making him more human and empathetic.
WHEN THE CAMPAIGN began -- laughingly early, 10 months ago -- it was Mrs. Clinton who provided most of the tabloid zingers and evening talk show fodder. She endured a series of stumbles, such as cozying up, clumsily, to Palistinian leaders and angering the city's huge reservoir of Jewish voters, most of whom are loyal Democrats, but ardent supporters of Israel.
Mrs. Clinton tried too hard to play a New Yorker, strutting around in Mets and Yankees baseball caps, talking about her new "neighbors" in the Westchester County home she and President Clinton purchased to qualify her for New York residence.
And for Mrs. Clinton, there will always be her husband's dalliance with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. After the president denied the affair, Hillary Clinton defended him and skewered his accusers. Her husband, she said, was the victim of a "vast right-wing conspiracy," a claim that was punctured by the notorious DNA test of Lewinsky's dress.
In light of the outpouring of support for the first lady when Lewinsky dominated the news, Mitchell Moss, director of the Urban Research Center at New York University, and others point to a surprising obstacle in Mrs. Clinton's path -- her lagging in polls with suburban women voters. "White women don't want to vote for her," says Moss bluntly.
"She doesn't have a record that relates to New York, she has an identity,' says Moss. But with her frenetic traveling -- she boasted last week that she has campaigned in all of the state's 62 counties -- Mrs. Clinton is working hard to blunt the "carpetbagger" tag.
"She has polarized women, and as a woman candidate that almost never happens," says Jennifer Duffy, who follows Senate races for the Washington-based Cook Political Report.
Giuliani's defenders say this should be no contest, that his record of accomplishment in one of the nation's most difficult elected jobs should easily trump Mrs. Clinton, who has never been elected to anything -- not even a school board.
"Giuliani is a great mayor," said Michael Cohen, a Manhattan insurance executive, sipping a nightcap Sunday evening at the Redeye Grill on Seventh Avenue near Midtown.
"You should have seen this city eight years ago," said Cohen. "It was a mess. Today, I feel a lot safer here than I do in Los Angeles or San Francisco."
Ann Fusaro of Queens, sunning herself yesterday near the thousands of sidewalk mourners and gawkers who thronged the streets near St. Patrick's Cathedral for O'Connor's funeral, also said Giuliani deserves support.
"The jobs are up, the city is a better place than when he took over," says Fusaro, a retiree.
So why do recent polls show Giuliani -- reelected mayor with 58 percent of the vote in 1997 -- winning less than 30 percent of the city vote against Mrs. Clinton?
His detractors point to the dark side to the mayor's personality and say the price of the aggressive police enforcement of street crime has become too steep.
Rick Miller, a Democrat and a retired city police officer who is black and lives in Queens, said he is disappointed in Giuliani, for whom he cast his mayoral ballot in 1997.
"I'm like a lot of people who are black and Hispanic," said Miller. "He has created a lot of division where he should be healing. I fear there will be riots this summer with this guy."
The minority community was outraged, Miller said, at Giuliani's handling of the case of Patrick Dorismond, 26, who was fatally shot by an undercover police detective during a drug buy-and-bust operation in Manhattan on March 16, making him the fourth unarmed black man fatally shot by police in the last 13 months.
Giuliani authorized the release of Dorismond's sealed juvenile crime record just hours after the shooting, and said the dead man was "no choir-boy."
Even Giuliani's admirers think he has let the police department go too far. Fred Siegel, professor of history at the Cooper Union for Arts and Sciences, and a onetime Giuliani adviser, gives the mayor high marks for fighting crime and welfare abuse, but said "He should have done more to reach out to the black community's leadership."
"But the idea that he is a racist is exactly wrong," said Siegel. Poor minority neighborhoods have been among the areas with the biggest drops in violent crime.
Police violence, Siegel says, is way down. In 1991 the police shot 41 citizens compared with 11 last year.
MAYBE THE RACE has so focused on personality because few issues divide the candidates. Giuliani has the image of a tough conservative; Mrs. Clinton is often denounced as as screaming liberal.
Yet, on most topics that define a candidates's politics these days, there are few differences. Giuliani is a classic moderate Republican, the kind of GOP candidate Democratic-leaning New York voters elect. He supports abortion rights and gay rights, as does Mrs. Clinton. One awkward moment for both candidates during yesterday's service for O'Connor came when mourners gave a two-minute standing ovation in memory of the cardinal's strong opposition to abortion; both Mrs. Clinton and Giuliani waited until most of the crowd was on its feet before standing to join in the ovation.
"It is a bizarre election," said one well-connected New York Democratic operative who does not want to be quoted by name.
Says Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Report, "I think this is going to be so close that the candidate who makes the last mistake will lose."