Hillary's New Nemesis Using McCain Playbook

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Well, that was fast. One week into the new race for New York's open U.S. Senate seat, Rick Lazio has all but erased a 14-point deficit and stands in a statistical dead heat with Hillary Clinton, according to a new Zogby poll. Lazio, the relatively unknown congressman from Long Island who replaced multi-troubled New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani on the Republican ticket, has pulled ahead upstate and in the suburbs and pulled even among independents. (Hillary still takes New York City by a comfortable margin.) And Clinton, ahead 46-32 in Zogby's May 20 poll and now almost tied at 46-44, is still bumping her head on what seems to be a 46-point ceiling. "Lazio came into this as a blank slate and had a very high-profile week, with everybody talking about him," says TIME national affairs correspondent Eric Pooley — witness Lazio's "unfamiliar" ratings dropping from 63 percent to 41 percent. "Everybody knows Clinton," he says. "The problem for her is, a lot of those know they don't like her."

Clinton seemed to realize Thursday that some new inroads would have to be made, and used a town hall forum in upstate Rochester to pledge that she would serve a full six-year term if she won — and continue to live in New York if she didn't. "This race could be about her problems, and whether she can change opinions of her," says Pooley. Meanwhile, Lazio's campaign got a big kiss Thursday from Rudy Giuliani, who will refund $2.8 million donated to his Senate campaign and enclose with each check a letter asking the donor to sign it over to the new guy. To make sure the novelty doesn't wear off, Lazio has loaded his campaign with old McCain staffers, who promise a bus tour and a Straight Talk-esque "wide-open media" atmosphere. The 41 percent who still don't know Lazio are likely to meet him very soon, and that, the Clinton campaign hopes, is when Lazio will start to narrow another gap — Hillary's 27-point lead in unfavorability ratings.