Can Hillary Break the Carpetbagger Ceiling?

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Rick Lazio is still unknown enough to be dubbed "candidate" in the New York Times headlines announcing his fill-in run for ailing mayor Rudy Giuliani — and he's already got almost a third of the vote. A Zogby poll of New York voters conducted Friday night and Saturday had Hillary Clinton at 46 percent and Lazio at 32 percent. And that was before Lazio officially jumped into the nationally watched U.S. Senate race Saturday night with a hometown-boy-makes-good rally in the gym of West Islip High School on Long Island, where Lazio graduated in 1976. Then Lazio, with New York Republicans from Gov. George Pataki to former rival Rep. Peter King closing ranks behind him, went about raising his political Q rating in the usual way: He appeared on all five Sunday talk shows and flashed his New York pedigree almost as often as his teeth.

The race, as they say, is on, although you wouldn't know it from Hillary's heart rate. While her staffers hit the airwaves touting Lazio's ties to Newt Gingrich, Clinton steadfastly refuses to get riled, well aware that any public snarling won't win her the new support she needs to break through what may be a mid-40s numbers ceiling. "Clinton is dealing with an anti-Hillary, anti-Clinton vote that could limit her numbers," says TIME New York correspondent Elaine Rivera. "She can't afford to make any more enemies, especially upstate." Lazio, on the other hand is dealing with an opponent that Rivera says Pataki, with his name and his money, "really could have stomped" outside Manhattan — and if Lazio can hang onto his centrism, that 32 percent has a lot of room to grow. Lazio will take off this week on an upstate barnstorm through Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Elmira and Binghamton, towns the First Lady has had to herself thus far. And then it's off to tony Westchester County, just north of New York City, where Clinton has planted roots. He'll cut into that missing 19 percent as soon as those voters start remembering his name. To get over 50 percent, Hillary Clinton may need some people to forget hers.