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
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
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
The trick, as PR pros will readily say, is to change an image that costs
votes, not to reinforce it.