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Jewish World Review Oct. 27, 1999 /17 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760

Chris Matthews

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The year of the woman... voter -- FOR WOMEN, the Y2K problem may be politics. The glass ceiling that once made the U.S. Senate the "world's most exclusive men's club" remains intact for the American presidency.

Hillary Rodham Clinton. Her race for the U.S. Senate from New York is seen by ally and enemy both as the first primary of an inevitable presidential campaign.

The voters and the media see it that way. Ask most Americans from coast to coast whether they would rather watch a debate between Al Gore and George W. Bush or one between Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani. I know the clash I'd like to see.

Such passionate interest carries a price. What other candidate for a state-level office would have The Economist of London wondering aloud whether a candidate was a legitimate fan of the local baseball team?

"Mrs. Clinton, who has never lived in New York but wants to become its senator," the estimable journal reported somewhat snidely last week, "suddenly revealed that she had always been a Yankees fan."

The problem facing the first lady was how to deal with this global skepticism about her devotion to the Bronx Bombers. Does she attend the World Series or leave Yankee Stadium to her expected Republican opponent Rudolph Giuliani? Does she skip the series or follow the Godfather's axiom to "keep your friends close, your enemies closer?" Does she take a powder or walk into the "House that Ruth Built" and take the boo-ing of the century?

I recommend she show up. Woody Allen, that great New Yorker, once advised that "90 percent of life is showing up." She should show up, take the wave of ridicule from the grandstands, and show she's a good enough sport and the true enough fan to take the good with the bad of public life.

I say this because the above-the-battle approach isn't working.

The latest Zogby poll has Rudy leading Hillary 51 percent to 40 percent. More ominously, it has the first lady's "unfavorable" rating higher than her "favorable." A third of the people who say they intend to vote for Giuliani give her as the reason.

By playing the role of front-runner, Mrs. Clinton has let rival Rudy play the scrappy role of challenger. The regular working and middle-class folk who live in the less-than-spiffy boroughs of New York, those whom sleek Manhattanites deride as the "bridge and tunnel crowd," tend to root for the underdog.

How else do you explain the Mets all these years?

Elizabeth Dole. Her campaign for the Republican presidential nomination was marked by some early excitement -- she was the lone Republican to take on the gun issue -- but an overriding caution. As one reporter noted, she looked "more like a candidate for president of the Republican Women's Club than president of the United States." Unlike John McCain, she failed to take the fight to the media or the front-runner George W. Bush.

Did Mrs. Dole suffer from the same resistance that now confronts Mrs. Clinton in New York? If so, the power of women in presidential elections may continue to lie less in the gender of the candidates than in the power of the female electorate itself. Bill Clinton owed his election to women. Men hated him so much they voted for Bob Dole.

The "gender gap" is just beginning to open in the race for 2000. A month ago, Gov. Bush was leading among both men and women. Today, he is beginning to suffer the same fate among women that has hurt Republican candidates since the days of Ronald Reagan. A month ago, he was leading by 19 percent among men and by 7 percent among women.

While his backing from men has inched up to 21 percent, he now trails Gore among women.

Could it be that the more Gore pushes his Democratic credentials -- pro-labor, pro-teachers, pro-health care, pro-environment -- the more women see him as their man in the race? If so, George W. Bush will need more than charm, a fresh face and a good name to beat him.

JWR contributor Chris Matthews, chief of the San Francisco Examiner's Washington Bureau, is host of "Hardball" on CNBC. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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10/18/99: Clinton's last hurrah
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10/11/99: Gore targets Bradley's strength
10/06/99: Bradley's got the right Rx
10/04/99: Buchanan, Churchill and Hitler
09/30/99: Who'll spin political gold in Golden State Gore or Bradley?
09/27/99: Here's a millennial checklist for candidates
09/22/99: The biography battle
09/20/99: Buchanan's new book is a must-read
09/15/99: Don't rule out Beatty
09/13/99: The man with the sun on his face
09/08/99: W. vs. Jr. on dope and the draft
The FALN: Hillary's Willie Horton
08/26/99: Bill's guilt fuels Hill's race
08/25/99: The seemingly inexhaustible strength of America's free enterprise
08/23/99: GOP candidates are weak also-rans
08/16/99: Bubba on Bubba
08/11/99: Hillary's agonizing attempts to understand
08/09/99: With warm regards, Richard Nixon
08/04/99: Weicker: real third party is on the Left
08/02/99: Dubyah's last hangover
07/27/99: Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh; capitalism is gonna win

©1999, NEA