Hillary Rodham Clinton tonight became the first president’s wife to win elected office, defeating Republican Rep. Rick Lazio in the most expensive, highest-profile Senate race in American history.
Shortly after 11 p.m. ET, Mrs. Clinton took to the stage in the packed ballroom of the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan to address a cheering crowd of 2,000 supporters.
“I just wanna say from the bottom of my heart: Thank you New York!” she said, drawing wild applause.
At the victorious first lady’s side were her husband, President Clinton, daughter Chelsea, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, and the man she is replacing, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
Mrs. Clinton poked fun at her campaign-trail wardrobe and the wild nature of the race, which saw her original opponent, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani withdraw amid a prostate cancer diagnosis and marital difficulties.
“Sixty-two counties, 16 months, three debates, two opponents and six black pantsuits later,” she said, “here we are!”
Lazio told his supporters he had phoned Mrs. Clinton to congratulate her on her victory and called for unity among New Yorkers.
“It’s time for us to hold our heads up high and to unify our state and to stand together,” the congressman said during his concession speech.
No matter which presidential candidate — Republican George W. Bush or Democrat Al Gore — lays claim to the White House, the “Clinton era” in politics will live on when the president’s wife is sworn in as the junior senator from New York next year.
“She won this election, not because she was first lady, but because she worked hard,” Schumer said. “She won this election the old-fashioned way: She earned it.”
Her supporters were equally thrilled with the victory.
“As a New Yorker, I’m proud of her because I think she represents the spirit of New York,” said Judy Farrell, 42, a Bronx resident. “You can come from anywhere in the country or the world and make it here — she’ll represent us well in the Senate.”
Mrs. Clinton soundly defeated her opponent, garnering 55 percent of the vote to Lazio’s 43 percent.
‘Race of the Century’
Even before Mrs. Clinton officially declared her candidacy in February, the contest was being billed as “the race of the century.” But the ballot battle that ended in a win tonight for the first lady was a different campaign than when it began.
New York voters and political pundits alike had been anticipating a race between the first lady and the outspoken mayor of New York City. It was not until May, when Giuliani’s Senate hopes were sidelined that Lazio — a congressman little known outside his Long Island district — was thrust into the limelight. He declared his candidacy the day after the mayor announced his decision not to run.
Many observers speculated Republicans’ chances would be damaged by Lazio’s late entry into the race. But others argued the congressman, a lesser-known but far less polarizing figure than the man he replaced, offered a better chance of victory in a race against a woman who is a lightning rod for Republicans and conservatives who dislike her husband.
Lazio was conscious of the fact he was running against a first lady with higher disapproval ratings than any of her predecessors. He ran what many of the journalists covering him referred to as a “stealth campaign,” keeping a low profile through much of the early stage of the race, hoping to allow his opponent to become the issue.