How will the first lady do if she goes into New York and runs for the Senate? My reference point here is the Robert Kennedy-Ken Keating Senate race that I covered back in 1964.
Kennedy was perceived as a "carpetbagger." And he won. Should that indicate Hillary Rodham Clinton won't be rejected by the voters because she is an outsider? Not necessarily.
Actually, Kennedy, who was stepping down from being Attorney General to make the race, never was able to shake what he called the "carpetbagger issue." At stops where he made campaign speeches it was inevitable that he would see signs like these in the crowd: "Boston Needs Bobby," and "Go Home Bobby."
And Kennedy, either in his speech or in answering questions, would spend time defending his right to come into the state and run for office. He said that, while the perception was that he hailed from Massachusetts, he had spent much time in New York. And he would usually close his argument with: "There have been many similar cases around the country and even here in New York. In fact, the first senator from the State of New York, Rufus King, was from Massachusetts. And he served the state well."
Now let's look at some figures. Kennedy beat Keating, the Republican incumbent, 3,728,864 to 3,078,557. You can't say that was a razor-edge victory; but it was fairly close. Then look at what President Lyndon Johnson did to Barry Goldwater on that same day in New York: He overwhelmed his GOP challenger 4,925,880 to 2,259,167. This was part of Johnson's landslide when, nationwide, he beat Goldwater by more than 15 million votes and 486 to 52 in the electoral college.
The similarity of Kennedy's and Mrs. Clinton's entries into the New York Senate races stands out so much that it cries out for comparison. Clinton, like Kennedy, would bring a famous name into the race. Clinton, like Kennedy, has already made a name for herself and has become a national figure.
Also Kennedy faced a tough opponent and Clinton seems likely to have a strong adversary in New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Indeed, the chairman of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, Mitch McConnell, told Monitor breakfasters the other morning that "if the first lady runs, we'll have two national elections - one for president and the other for New York senator."
Mr. McConnell is convinced, and he cites polls to back him up, that the public is "fatigued" with the Clintons and those around them - "even if people didn't want to throw him out." He says this fatigue will show up particularly in the presidential and in New York races, "if Hillary runs."
Let's go back to that Johnson landslide and Kennedy's fairly close win. My reading then - and now - is that not only was Kennedy helped by Johnson's coattails, but he wouldn't have beaten Keating without Johnson and Johnson's popularity. This definitely is not a judgment that Robert Kennedy himself, or any of the Kennedys, would have liked - or accepted. It is well known that Bobby and Lyndon had nothing but contempt for each other.
So I reject the early predictions that the first lady will be a shoo-in if she becomes a candidate. I think she will suffer from being regarded by many voters as a carpetbagger. And, also, the "Clinton fatigue" factor will work against her.
So, as I see it, she's going to need a Democratic presidential victory to pull her through - maybe a one-sided one.
I remember well the day when New York's Democratic state convention delegates gave Bobby Kennedy the senatorial nomination by a lopsided vote. Kennedy ran up to the rostrum and his first words were these, "Fellow New Yorkers." And he smiled - and smiled. The applause was loud and sustained - and his short speech interrupted 24 times with more applause.
And today, even off stage, the first lady is receiving this kind of applause from New York's Democrats.