A growing number of conservatives have become restless with New York GOP U.S. Senate candidate Rick Lazio’s bland and largely issueless campaign against Hillary Clinton. But it just may be that help is on the way — the recent appointment of Bill Dal Col as campaign manager is a welcome sign.
Dal Col is a longtime conservative warrior, and a first-rate political professional. His resume includes a stint as former HUD secretary Jack Kemp’s chief of staff as well as president of the Steve Forbes outfit, Americans for Hope, Growth and Opportunity. He also managed Forbes’s presidential campaign in 1996 and 2000.
Dal Col critics may gripe that he has snagged no major victories, but he’s strong on the issues — exactly what Lazio needs. Dal Col is also a Long Island native who went to high school with Lazio. He is an insider’s insider who works hard and efficiently.
“Rick does clearly support tax cuts,” Dal Col told me in a telephone interview. Then why has there been no sign of it yet?
“Its going to be a tax-cut campaign,” Dal Col vows. “Rick has been very cautious in his public statements so far, especially because of the liberal New York public. But he comes to it naturally. You don’t have to pull teeth to get out the tax-cut message with Rick. I believe his instincts are more conservative than even he believes.”
Dal Col already has a clear campaign strategy in mind. It’s modeled after George Pataki’s tax-cutting gubernatorial campaign in 1994, and Rudy Giuliani’s mayoral campaign in 1993 — in which Giuliani focused successfully on winning votes from conservative Reagan Democrats scattered through the five boroughs of New York City.
As is usually the case, the Lazio campaign will work three overlapping geographic strategies: In New York City, it will pursue Italian- and Irish-Catholic ethnics and conservative Jews, but also Latinos and blacks. Educational choice, parental control of schools, and charter schools will play a big role in the minority outreach. Meanwhile, traditional family values and a tough-on-crime message should appeal to the Reagan Democrats.
For upstate and the suburbs, the campaign will emphasize tax cuts and private investment accounts for Social Security reform. Suburban moms are expected to connect with Lazio’s moderate image, but he will also emphasize education and health reform. Upstate, especially in the Buffalo-Erie County area, where the jobs base remains depressed in the wake of numerous auto and industrial plant-closings, the economic-growth and tax-cut issues will be emphasized.
Dal Col is also impressed with the idea that Lazio should be viewed as the real heir to retiring Sen. Pat Moynihan. Moynihan has long argued that New York has been short-changed by sending far more tax resources to Washington than it receives back in federal benefits. Dal Col likes the idea of using this argument, especially if it means tax-cut benefits. He also likes pointing out that Hillary Clinton can’t possibly understand how overburdened New York taxpayers are because she has never lived in the state.
Also, since Moynihan has come out strongly for George Bush’s private investment accounts, arguing that the plan — at bottom — merely returns the last two percent payroll-tax hike back to workers, Dal Col believes that Lazio could echo this argument and bring the candidate an even bigger piece of Moynihan’s appeal. Moynihan’s opposition to partial-birth abortion should also provide cover to Lazio.
Of course, the campaign expects to capitalize on the intense dislike many New Yorkers have for Mrs. Clinton. But Dal Col understands that support for Lazio will ultimately only crystallize around a strong issues message. Thus far, the candidate has not devoted much time to policy development.
But this is expected to change soon. Lazio will appear before the new Club for Growth in a Washington meeting on June 22. He knows that there could be a large cash infusion from Club members, but he also recognizes that he must announce clear policy intentions, especially tax cuts, if he is to convince this staunchly free-market crowd of his worth.
Dal Col is accustomed to working in issue-oriented campaigns. Throughout his career he has been driven as much by policy message as by campaign process. That makes him a rarity among the political-consultant class.
If Lazio takes Dal Col’s advice, he’ll be a Senator and Dal Col will have bagged his first big win.