INSIDE THE BELTWAY: Hey Rudy: your approval rating is dropping and Hillary is gaining on you. Time to embrace PR?

Last week’s public opinion poll shocker, showing Hillary Rodham Clinton now leading Rudy Giuliani by 10 percentage points - after trailing the mayor for months in the New York Senate race - caused Democrats to rejoice and Republicans to cast about for another candidate. But it brought only sage nods from political PR folks accustomed to the vagaries of New York campaigns.

Last week’s public opinion poll shocker, showing Hillary Rodham Clinton now leading Rudy Giuliani by 10 percentage points - after trailing the mayor for months in the New York Senate race - caused Democrats to rejoice and Republicans to cast about for another candidate. But it brought only sage nods from political PR folks accustomed to the vagaries of New York campaigns.

Last week’s public opinion poll shocker, showing Hillary Rodham

Clinton now leading Rudy Giuliani by 10 percentage points - after

trailing the mayor for months in the New York Senate race - caused

Democrats to rejoice and Republicans to cast about for another

candidate. But it brought only sage nods from political PR folks

accustomed to the vagaries of New York campaigns.



First of all, the ’carpetbagger’ issue has diminished and will be a

negligible factor. Because of a high collective ego, New York thinks

itself independent and likes carpetbaggers, especially as senators

Since Robert Kennedy was elected in 1964 the Empire State has had at

least one senator who was not a New Yorker when he campaigned. RFK was

followed by James Buckley - of the Connecticut Buckleys - and he by

Daniel P. Moynihan, a fixture at Harvard before temporary service in the

Nixon administration as ambassador to India and to the United

Nations.



But more important, the Catholic issue began to hurt Giuliani. As a

George W. Bush supporter, he had to suffer the damage of the Bob Jones

University appearance, and the revelations of the blatant anti-Catholic

bigotry of that ’university’ and its leaders. And Bush’s half-hearted

apology to Cardinal O’Connor - brilliantly derided as a ’polyester hair

shirt’ by Marjorie Williams of The Washington Post - hardly made up any

ground.



And it also didn’t help when Speaker Hastert clumsily attempted to make

up for the anti-Catholicism of the GOP leadership in the House - passing

over the choice for chaplain made by Hastert’s own advisory committee

because he was a priest - by plucking a conservative priest from Chicago

who had not sought the post and was informed of his selection only at

the last moment.



New York Catholics have long memories. They embraced John F. Kennedy in

1960 with special fervor, remembering that their Catholic Governor, Al

Smith, was denied the presidency in 1928 in a wave of prejudice. Now,

hardly a parish doesn’t know about Bob Jones University and the House’s

rejection of Father O’Brien as chaplain.



After Giuliani’s brutal attacks on the character and ’secret’ juvenile

record (he smoked marijuana!) of an unarmed and unresisting

African-American killed in custody by police bullets, the drop in his

ratings were no surprise.



The same poll showed Giuliani’s approval rating among African-Americans

as ’virtually unmeasurable.’ That’s what the weather bureau calls ’a

trace.’



The trick, as PR pros will readily say, is to change an image that costs

votes, not to reinforce it.



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