Rudy's Out. Does That Mean Hillary Is In?

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Well, that's it. The race for the New York's Senate seat is now between a first lady from Washington (or Illinois or Arkansas) and a New Yorker not many New Yorkers have even heard of before. New York mayor Rudy Giuliani finally heeded the advice of probably just about everyone but his inner pugilist and on Friday dropped out of the race he'd never even officially entered. Citing his prostate cancer, and not his marital chaos, as a force that had made him reassess his priorities, an emotional Giuliani waxed philosophical for a while — "I used to think the core of me was in politics, but it isn't" — and called himself, Gehrig-style, a "very fortunate man" before announcing the decision he'd leaked hours before: "This is not the right time for me to run for office." None of that matters anymore to the Republican kingmakers who'd been counting on him to beat Hillary all the way back to Beltway. They're left standing in the ring without a fighter, and they've got until the May 30 state GOP convention to turn Long Island's Rep. Rick Lazio into a contender.

TIME national political correspondent Eric Pooley says it can be done. "He's got a stature gap to close," he says. "But while he doesn't have Giuliani's strengths, he doesn't have his weaknesses either." Of course, name recognition — and national ink — in this race may not be a problem for long. And the young, handsome, likable congressman from suburban Long Island is a good moderate-to-conservative Republican, with none of Rudy's enemies in the state GOP and fewer problems with Republicans in upstate New York, where Giuliani was almost as much of a carpetbagger from Manhattan as Clinton is from Washington. Lazio backed Newt Gingrich, but also has a moderate record on family leave and abortion rights, which will blunt some of Clinton's attacks on him as a lockstep GOP party man. Pooley says the race may well depend on which vote is bigger: pro-Hillary or anti-Hillary. "There may be a ceiling to Clinton's numbers, which didn't get past 45 percent or so even when Giuliani was at the height of his troubles," he says. "We'll have to see how well Lazio performs in this very high-profile campaign, but it may be her problems, and whether she can overcome them, that determine the winner." In other words, there's only one sure thing about this race compared to Rudy v. Hillary, Pooley says: "It won't be as much fun."