Vertiginous In New York

Hillary Clinton is a leading cultural indicator, and New York politics, with enough variables to induce vertigo, illustrates the definition of politics as the organization of animosities. So consider the complexities surrounding her evident determination to occupy--do not say fill--the seat of retiring Sen. Pat Moynihan.

Why would she run? Never mind the psychotherapeutic hypothesis that after Monica and decades of Monica's antecedents, she needs a self-esteem infusion. She is running because running is what the Clintons do. Campaigning may be a metabolic necessity for them; it certainly is their lifetime vocation.

He has been campaigning since law school. Tagging along, she has led an entirely derivative life, from rainmaker for an unsavory Little Rock law firm to unmaker of health-care reform. But now she inherits the family business, which consists of living off the land, nomadically soliciting money to fuel campaigns. Well-known not for any achievements but only for her well-knownness, she personifies the politics of celebrity.

Does she worry that by keeping the cloud of Clintonism on the public's horizon, and by siphoning up Democratic money, she will hurt Al Gore? Are you kidding? A reasonable surmise is that she wants him to lose, so she can fulfill her manifest destiny in 2004.

Can she beat Mayor Rudy Giuliani? Hold on. He may not run. If he runs, he may not be nominated in the primary a year from this September. And if he is nominated, votes necessary for a November victory may be siphoned off by candidates on ballot lines denied to him. So, meet Mike Long, head of New York's Conservative Party, which has 175,000 members, and an attitude.

When Giuliani ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 1989 and successfully in 1993, the Conservative Party ran candidates against him. Since then he has compiled a sparkling conservative record in reducing crime and welfare rolls. However, he is liberal regarding gay rights, racial preferences and abortion, even partial-birth abortion. And in 1994 he supported Gov. Mario Cuomo against the winner, Republican George Pataki, who remembers.

Giuliani recently opposed repeal of the commuter tax, which is despised in suburban counties where Republican primary voters are thick on the ground. Furthermore, in 1993 and 1997 Giuliani ran on the Liberal Party line as well as the Republican line. Although a shadow of its former self, the Liberal Party has 97,000 members and is run by a Giuliani friend.

In 1998, Pataki won 348,727 votes on the Conservative line. Mike Long says his party will not endorse Giuliani if he is on the Liberal line, or if he continues to support partial-birth abortion. It has been 25 years since a Republican won statewide without the Conservative Party endorsement. Sen. Jacob Javits did in 1974, when he had the Liberal as well as the Republican line.

Pataki and former senator Al D'Amato may avenge Giuliani's Cuomo endorsement by supporting Rep. Rick Lazio, a pro-choice moderate from Long Island, in the primary. Absent a Giuliani reversal on partial-birth abortion, the Conservative Party would have to support Lazio in the primary and, if Giuliani wins anyway, would oppose him in the general election.

But suppose Rep. Peter King, a pugnacious conservative from Long Island, seeks the Republican Senate nomination, which he says he is seriously considering. Although King angered conservatives by voting against impeaching Hillary's husband, he is right to life and more attuned than Giuliani and Lazio are to Republican primary voters, about 85 percent of whom live outside Giuliani's city, which they believe is pestiferous.

King and Giuliani were interns together in Richard Nixon's law firm in 1967, and King says: "Then Giuliani was a left-wing liberal, a Stokely Carmichael-Rap Brown kind of guy, a Bobby Kennedy kind of guy, but more left-wing." King says merrily, "I could work my way into his mind." And into the Conservative Party's endorsement. In addition, King, unlike Lazio or Giuliani, could have the Right to Life Party's important place on the ballot. In a primary, King, who has just published a novel sympathetic to Sinn Fein and the IRA, would draw Irish-Americans while Lazio and Giuliani would divide Italian-Americans.

Mike Long, wary of Giuliani's versatility of allegiance that resulted in the endorsement of Cuomo, wonders: Suppose in October 2000 Al Gore is well ahead of George W. Bush in New York and Giuliani is a few points behind Hillary. Might Giuliani endorse Gore? Besides, will Giuliani even ask for the Conservative endorsement? "He's not," says Long dryly, "the asking type." And, Long adds, Giuliani probably knows he would hate being 1 percent of the Senate, so maybe he will skip the Senate race, finish as mayor in 2001 and run for what he really craves, the governorship.

Mrs. Clinton might get the Liberal line. In the Liberal Party's 54 years, no Democrat has successfully run statewide without the Liberal endorsement. And Giuliani might get neither the Conservative nor the Right to Life line. Feeling vertiginous? There is more.

The parties' places on New York's ballots are determined by the votes they won in the preceding gubernatorial election. In 1998 Tom Golisano, a wealthy businessman, ran for governor as head of the Independence Party (fiscally conservative, socially liberal). He got 7.3 percent of the votes, enough to wrest from the Conservative Party the right to the third line on the ballot in 2000.

Last week Hillary's husband called a Tom Golisano, inviting him to a Yankee game. It was the wrong Tom Golisano--a distant cousin. Clearly Bill is courting the correct Golisano, hoping he will help put Hillary on the third line on the ballot. And speaking of the Yankees...

"The fact is," Mrs. Clinton recently burbled, "I've always been a Yankees fan." I have always admired Islam, said Napoleon, in an attempt to gull the natives at the beginning of his campaign in Egypt. That campaign did not go well.