The sea change in Clinton's comportment may have very little to do with defining her own campaign, political observers say, and everything to do with Lazio's refusal to pin himself down. It's difficult, after all to gain any ground in a very tight race when your opponent seems perfectly happy to perch on the political fence, occasionally dangling a foot toward a position but generally letting voter perceptions wander where they may. By taking an aggressive tack, Clinton may be hoping to sway those perceptions in her favor, dropping hints of doubt about Lazio where none existed before. On the other hand, by lashing out at Lazio in her own voice (instead of capitalizing on the distance created by a negative ad or surrogate), the First Lady could be backing herself into a very uncomfortable scenario in which she's cast as the "angry" candidate while her opponent cruises to victory on a platform of somewhat nebulous (but largely unthreatening) moderation.
TIME political correspondent Andrew Goldstein, who's been watching the campaign, weighs in on Clinton's new political personality:
"Hillary's attacks are interesting because her favorite mantra until now has been 'I'm a candidate of ideas, not insults.' Now she's going to have to come up with a new line. Hillary obviously knows that if Lazio successfully portrays himself as a moderate, she'll lose the one big advantage she had had over Giuliani: Most New Yorkers agree with her on the issues."