The Washington Post
NEW YORK – Hillary Clinton catapulted out of her husband’s long presidential shadow Tuesday, overcoming widespread misgivings about her carpetbagger candidacy and her polarizing personality to earn a historic victory in her New York Senate race.
The first lady’s long, strange trip to join the GOP-controlled institution that acquitted her impeached husband ended Tuesday night in a raucous Manhattan ballroom. Republicans had yearned for the boyish Rep. Rick Lazio, R-N.Y., to drive the first family out of Washington and end the Clinton era once and for all, but the first lady will now be one of the state’s most prominent Democrats and will continue on the national stage.
The president, meanwhile, will become the unlikeliest member of the Senate spouses club. He was beaming at his wife’s side Tuesday night, along with retiring Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who once called the first lady’s health care plan “a fantasy” but now compares her to Eleanor Roosevelt. If there is really a “vast right-wing conspiracy,” as she once theorized on national television, it could not have been very happy with its work here Tuesday night.
No other first lady has ever run for office in any state, much less a newly adopted state, but Clinton – who grew up in Illinois, went to school in Massachusetts and Connecticut, then practiced law in Arkansas before moving to the White House – wisely relocated to a Democratic state that had supported her husband twice. Now, after standing by him during his races for attorney general, governor and president – and his humiliating affair with a White House intern – Clinton has finally established her own electoral identity. With his help, to be sure, and the help of his vice president, and the help of his top advisers, but she nevertheless will enter the Senate as her own woman, perhaps the most famous one in America.
She mentioned her husband in her thank-you speech Tuesday night – once. She also mentioned her brothers once. She mentioned former mayor Edward Koch once, too. She didn’t mention Vice President Al Gore at all. “I promise you tonight that I will reach across party lines to bring progress to all New Yorkers,” she said.
The intense emotions inspired by the first lady made this the most expensive Senate race in history, with half of an estimated $100 million raised out of state. It was probably also the highest-profile Senate race ever, attracting camera crews from Turkey, Denmark and Japan. And her dual status as candidate and first lady made this one of the weirdest Senate races ever; at times, she even criticized her husband’s Middle East policies on the stump.
At her victory party Tuesday night, her friends admitted they couldn’t quite fathom the events of the last few years ending up this way. “Weird doesn’t begin to describe this,” said Clinton family attorney David Kendall, who first informed her two years ago that the president had admitted his affair with Monica Lewinsky.
For 16 months, though, the first lady made the surreal seem almost routine through sheer repetition, running a relentlessly disciplined campaign on carefully chosen themes. She embraced her husband’s legacy of more jobs and less crime while distancing herself from his decisions that proved unpopular in New York, on topics ranging from dairy policy to Medicaid to Israel.
She refused to discuss impeachment or Whitewater or cattle futures until reporters stopped asking about them. She even avoided the topic of her health care fiasco, except to say she had learned from its failure.
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