Pataki, the state's leadingRepublican, says nice things aboutall three potential Senate contenders- but has dodged the party chief'sduty of clearing the field.' WILL Rogers famously once observed that he belonged to no "organized political party" - he was a Democrat. Were he alive today, he'd feel at home among New York Republicans, squabbling over who will face Hillary Rodham Clinton in the 2000 U.S. Senate race. Mayor Giuliani and Long Island congressmen Rick Lazio and Peter King are all considering the race. They agree that a "New Yorker" should represent the state in the Senate - but not on much else, and a year of intraparty bloodletting may cost Republicans an otherwise excellent chance at the seat. Then, too, the GOP primary will only decide who runs under the Republican banner. Thanks to New York state's peculiar system of multiple party endorsements, more than one Republican may appear on the November 2000 ballot. Therein lies a tale that would do Rogers and his disorganized Democrats of yesteryear proud. Lazio, for example, hints that he might capture the Conservative Party endorsement. Yet, save for "partial birth" abortion (Lazio favors a ban; Giuliani has stated that abortion law shouldn't change), the two men hold identical positions on most issues. Why would the Conservatives endorse either? Patronage, of course. Gov. Pataki, having won his lease on Albany with their help, has given the Conservatives an honored place at the table of state government. It would not be prudent for such a third party to oppose a governor who controls thousands of jobs, appointments and contracts. And the governor is said to still resent Giuliani's endorsement of (and vigorous campaigning for) Gov. Cuomo against challenger Pataki in 1994. Then, too, ex-Sen. Alfonse D'Amato - still a GOP power, and a longtime Conservative ally - is no Rudy fan either. Their feud goes back at least a decade, to Giuliani's attempt to influence the choice of his successor when he resigned as U.S. Attorney. Such appointments are usually the prerogative of the senator of the president's party, who was then D'Amato. Giuliani had been investigating D'Amato's brother at the time. Should Lazio lose the GOP primary, he could still run on the Conservative line in the general election. The congressman may think that threatening to go this route would sway Republican voters to give him their party's nod - though polls say otherwise. Still, were he to run as a Conservative, Lazio might pull enough votes from Giuliani in the fall to elect Mrs. Clinton. Were these two pro-choice Republicans to settle their differences, the question of whom the Right to Life Party will field as its candidate would remain. Might it be Peter King? The more prominent this party's nominee, the more votes he will take from the other Republican candidate(s). That too would help Mrs. Clinton. Then, there's the Liberal Party. Running on both the Republican and Liberal lines helped make Guiliani mayor - and if he failed to win the GOP nod for Senate, he could still run as a Liberal, having provided the patronage to keep the party alive since he won Gracie Mansion in 1993. By going that route, Giuliani could repeat Jim Buckley's 1970 victory. Running on the Conservative Line, Buckley polled 38 percent against Republican Charles Goodell and Democrat Richard Ottinger. (The previous year, New York Mayor John V. Lindsay won re-election on the Liberal line after losing the GOP primary to state Sen. John Marchi.) At the least, Giuliani would hold the balance of power between Mrs. Clinton and her Republican-Conservative opponent. This is what happened in 1980, when Sen. Jacob Javits stayed in the race after losing the GOP primary to D'Amato. Javits pulled 11 percent of the vote, D'Amato 45 percent, and Democrat Elizabeth Holtzman 44 percent. Analysts still debate which candidate Javits hurt most. Some Republicans recognize that failure to close ranks in New York may mean disaster - but none have stepped in. Pataki, the state's leading Republican, says nice things about all three potential Senate contenders - but has dodged the party chief's duty of clearing the field. The Republican National Committee debated how to handle the matter and resolved to do nothing. Perhaps it recognizes its lack of power to decide local situations. There is one Republican, though, with a stake in the outcome and the ability to do something to resolve this family dispute. George W. Bush has a lot riding on this contest. He is the first Republican prospect since Ronald Reagan with a chance of winning electoral-vote-rich New York. Each of the feuding brethren would want to be in "W's" good graces. Pataki has hopes of a national post. Giuliani is bound to be on any list of possible attorneys general should he not go to the Senate. Reps. Lazio and King gain nothing by disregarding the interests of a potential president. Bush would not have to declare a favorite. All he would have to do is indicate his intention to run on two or more lines with the same Senatorial candidate. That should get the locals negotiating.

Dr. Alvin Felzenberg

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