Lazio banks on upstate voters in New York Senate race
ROCHESTER, New York (CNN) -- The Senate race between first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and Rep. Rick Lazio may be decided not among the concrete canyons of Manhattan, but in the rolling hills upstate.
Though Clinton, the Democrats' choice to replace retiring Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, leads in the city, Lazio -- a four-term Republican congressman from Long Island -- is ahead in the New York suburbs.
Rep. Rick Lazio and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton are locked in a tight race upstate
But upstate, where 45 percent of New York voters live, Clinton and Lazio are running neck-and-neck in recent polls. Neither has been able to break the deadlock, despite frequent tours of the traditionally Republican region.
"You're gonna get tired of seeing me, not only in the next five weeks, but in the next six years," Clinton told an audience in Buffalo recently.
The tight race upstate is bad news for Lazio, who many observers say must win the traditionally Republican counties north of New York by at least 10 points to offset Clinton's lead in the city.
Sen. Charles Schumer's 1998 campaign showed that a Democrat who does well in the larger urban areas upstate can offset the GOP's advantages in the smaller, rural areas.
Clinton's strategy upstate is modeled to mirror Schumer's success, and Lazio is working hard to counter it.
"New Yorkers say they want a senator with a record of delivering for the state," Lazio told an audience in Plattsburgh recently. He noted that the first time he ran for Congress, he started down by 20 points and won by 8 percent.
"The only thing that matters is what you feel in the street," he said. "I've been through seven campaigns right now. I can feel a winning campaign in my bones. This one is one of those."
Upstate New York has lagged behind the economic boom that has lifted much of the country, and Clinton is campaigning on a variation of her husband's 1992 campaign mantra: "It's the economy, stupid."
"I've got specific ideas in a plan about how to recruit and keep good jobs in upstate New York," she said.
Lazio is also addressing upstate concerns and he will be in the region every day this week. He says the economy here needs attention, but has turned a corner.
"I think it's important though that the people from outside New York don't look at this region as some vast economic wasteland, which is what my opponent would like to portray," he said.
Though Lazio has proposed some tax cuts to help the region, The Buffalo News criticized that stance last month. The paper blasted him in a dismissive editorial that questioned "whatever political planet Rick Lazio is now orbiting."
"The idea there was that there was a reality," Buffalo News Editor Margaret Sullivan said. "And to talk about an image as opposed to a reality of economic problems was somewhat out of touch."
Bob Tobin, who is president of the small business council of the Rochester Chamber Of Commerce -- and an undecided voter -- said neither candidate has given him reason for optimism.
"Stop the partisan squabbling, and let's talk about some real strategies that they're going to try to implement if elected to help our area," he said.
Clinton and Lazio both insist they already are. And as their campaigns rev up for the final lap of the Senate race, both hope upstate voters will come aboard with them.