Can Pirro Beat Clinton?

Dick Morris believes the Republicans have a decent chance of beating Hillary Clinton in her bid for re-election to the Senate with the candidacy of Jeanine Pirro.


WESTCHESTER DA Jeanine Pirro is about to formally announce her candidacy for Senate from New York, which will pit her against Hillary in a battle royal. This is just the kind of fight that Sen. Clinton would have hoped to avoid.

While Hillary would have no problem dispatching an opponent like Nixon son-in-law Edward Cox or Yonkers Mayor John Spencer (the two other possible GOP contenders), Pirro presents a real problem.

Jeanine Pirro is pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-affirmative action, pro-gay-civil unions and pro-immigration. And, of course, she’s a woman.

In a sense, Hillary will have to end up running against someone who is quite like herself in her public positions: Except, of course, Pirro is a good old-fashioned anti-tax, anti-crime, tough-on-terror Republican from the suburbs.

Hillary would love to cloak her Senate re-election as a necessity in the face of a determined GOP effort to overturn Roe vs. Wade and to roll back the clock on gun controls. But against Pirro, she will be disarmed of all her best issues. She will have to run on her own record, which is limited at best.

Pirro, on the other hand, can point out that Hillary refuses to say that she will serve out her term if elected — since we all know that the day the returns are in she will start her campaign for president. (Hillary has her own twist on the famous line of Gen. Sherman: “If elected, I refuse to serve”).

The Quinnipiac Poll recently found that Hillary beat Pirro by more than 30 percentage points — but in the same poll, 60 percent of the state’s voters said that Mrs. Clinton should pledge to serve out her full term if she runs for the Senate.

Honestly, this strikes me as far-fetched indeed. New Yorkers elected Clinton easily six years ago and she has represented them quite ably. She’s incredibly popular and has a huge advantage in name recognition, money, and organization.

This part is only slightly more intriguing:

And Pirro doesn’t need to beat Hillary to wound her. If she finishes less than the 12 points behind Clinton that Rick Lazio managed in the 2000 election, it will be a victory of sorts. Hillary will have some explaining to do to tell why fewer New Yorkers wanted her to be re-elected than voted for her in the first place. And, at some point, Mrs. Clinton may feel Pirro gaining on them and wonder if it is worth the battle.


Hillary almost has a lock on the Democratic nomination in 2008 and can build up a massive financial and political lead over all possible rivals. But if she is engaged in a nip-and-tuck battle in New York to keep what she already has, she will have to divert $30 million or $40 million from her presidential race and spend her time in Rochester, rather than in Iowa. If Pirro posts some early gains, particularly upstate, where it is cheap to do early advertising, Hillary and Bill may read the handwriting on the wall and she may pull out of the race.

She has already pledged to run for re-election and it strikes me that she has much more to lose by ducking a race she’ll almost surely win than by spending a few million to fight. And it’s absurd that whatever money she spends on the Senate run is money out of her ’08 race. She’s wealthy but not nearly enough so that she’d be self-financing. From a campaign finance standpoint, ’08 and ’06 are completely unrelated; for that matter, the ’08 primaries and the ’08 general election are completely different races. Money is a non-issue for Clinton; the question is whether her opponents can keep up.

And, as Stephen Green points out, “Morris has a long track record of being exactly wrong where Hillary is concerned.” Quite so. I’d be happy if Morris were to be proven right in this case, but wishful thinking is not a useful substitute for analysis.

Orin Judd actually adds some:

Ms Clinton has nothing to gain in this race. Even if she wins by a large margin she was supposed to. Lose and it’s all over. Win narrowly and it’s damaging. Meanwhile, Ms Pirro forces her Left on social issues, where she needs to be headed Right. Since ducking the race allows Ms Clinton to avoid two extra years of Senate votes it’s a possibility that can’t be ruled out.

Not to mention the fact that, as John Podhoretz reminds us, sitting Senators almost always lose presidential elections.

Still, Clinton has already said she’s in. Getting re-elected adds to her resume–which is, after all, quite thin from a presidential perspective–and continues to have a platform for demonstrating that she’s really a moderate.

Erick Erickson and Ramesh Ponnuru are also skeptical.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2006, Campaign 2008, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. ozzippit says:

    Knowing all we now know of Mr. Morris, why does anyone consider him a sage? Morris was a hired gun with loyalty as long as he was being paid regularly. St. Hillary has uttered so many negative words at, and about, him, perhaps it’s payback time for Morris now?

  2. Fitch says:

    A monkey could beat Hillary. Actually, it would be funny if a monkey did beat Hillary.

  3. Anderson says:

    If she finishes less than the 12 points behind Clinton that Rick Lazio managed in the 2000 election, it will be a victory of sorts.

    Say, wasn’t this “victory of sorts” thinking being roundly criticized by victorious Repubs after the Ohio special election?

    Regardless of Hillary’s presidential chances, I think OTB has the issues pegged on her Senatorial chances. I mean, damn, they could find Hillary in bed with a woman & it would probably *help* her electorally–“wow, she *is* human.”

  4. steve says:

    A monkey could beat Hillary. Actually, it would be funny if a monkey did beat Hillary.
    One beat Kerry.

  5. Andrew says:

    Dick Morris has a point…of course Hillary is going to win the New York Senate seat in 2006. Hell would sooner freeze over than have a Clinton lose in the most Democratic state in the Union. But the question is: how much damage can Pirro do to Hillary Clinton to make her “damaged goods” for 2008?

    Hillary Clinton is being heralded as the front running 2008 candidate. Her record is a bit…short. She served eight years as First Lady to one of the most popular Democratic presidents in the 20th century, and now she is serving her first term as a popular senator from New York.

    If Pirro can manage to make this a somewhat close race, it will send a few messages. First, it would remove the “popular” sticker that she has among Democrats. If she could barely keep her seat in New York, she wouldn’t be seen as the obvious candidate for 2008; simply because she doesn’t seem invincible anymore. Second, in close campaigns, all sorts of dirt comes up on both sides. Even if Clinton wins her seat, she will still have some political mud on her dress…mud that won’t wash off in time for 2008.

    So in this case, Jeanine Pirro doesn’t have to win “to win.” The goal (at least for me) isn’t to take away her seat. It’s to bash it to pieces.