Hillary Hits the Halfway Mark

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In an election even Rick Lazio casts as a contest between those who like Hillary Clinton and those who hate her, the First Lady on Wednesday reached an almost mythic threshold for her endlessly scrutinized campaign: 50 percent.

A new poll released by the independent Quinnipiac University Polling Institute has Clinton with a 50-43 lead over Lazio, a smidge better than the 49-44 lead the poll gave her two weeks ago and more importantly, a symbolic statement that not enough New Yorkers hate Hillary to keep her out of office. "We know this race is going to be close," Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson said, "but it's nice to hit the big five-oh."

Lazio scored a tactical victory last week with a soft-money pledge that gives him the financial edge from here on out, and his sudden embrace of the soft-money issue has given him a bit of ideological momentum. But as voters get to know him, he hasn't expanded as a candidate, and instead of him filling the void Clinton's controversies were supposed to leave in the middle of the vote, Hillary seems to have done it herself.

Bringing her down from the cusp of victory may not be easy for Lazio. As the New York Times lugubriously pointed out in its "Disapproval Ratings: A Special Report" piece on Hillary's double-edged relationship with fame, Mrs. Clinton is "one of the most celebrated women in the world" and also one of its most criticized. But defeating her always meant making a majority of her enemies, and instead Clinton may have done that with her friends.

Lazio is still on an upward recognition curve, and he can still improve in voter's minds in the month he's got left. Other polls had the race dead even as recently as last week. But Hillary's a star. Everybody knows who she is, what she's done, who her husband's been fooling around with. And if 50 percent of New Yorkers have indeed decided to accept her, the recent converts probably haven't done so lightly. The soft money issue is over. How's Lazio going to change their minds now?