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Can Tasini Pull a Lamont?

Underdog Hillary challenger thinks so, even if nobody else does; in basement HQ, he wonders why voters don’t see the parallels with Lieberman.

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Jonathan Tasini is walking the wrong way down Fifth Avenue. It’s just past noon the day after antiwar insurgent Ned Lamont beat stubbornly pro-war Joe Lieberman in Connecticut, and it ought to be the biggest day of Tasini’s campaign yet, since he’s been sounding the same themes against Hillary Clinton. He’d put this trip to the New York Public Library on his schedule, but the media didn’t seem to care much. Blazing heat all around, sweat seeping through his suit, and he’s pacing through midtown traffic in cowboy boots, trying to make it to the next stop—where is the protest against defense contractor Bechtel, again?—and at the same time shouting to different reporters through the dangling earpiece on his Treo. The cars are buzzing beside him. Fire trucks, too. But Tasini keeps moving, talking over sharp horns and engines into the earpiece, oblivious that in his rush he’s left two field volunteers—a couple of gray-haired hippie-ish women, one in a tie-dyed dress, both clutching campaign signs fashioned from mailing tubes—stranded on a corner.

“Jonathan! Jonathan!” one yells, desperate.

On he goes. Since announcing his senatorial candidacy in December, Tasini, a former union organizer with woolly political leanings, has been on a mission some politicos call feckless and virtually everyone calls quixotic. His paid staff consists of a press coordinator he hired through Craigslist, a campaign manager he met at a dinner party, and one paid field coordinator. They work out of a shabby West Village basement office that belongs to a political club. Cigarette butts rest in the hallway; strips of flypaper hang in the windows. “Unadorned,” Tasini says.

He believes Clinton has lost her progressive ways in gearing up for a possible presidential bid in ’08, and her fund-­raisers with plutocrats like Rupert Murdoch drive him bananas. “She’s inauthentic. Everything is triangulated, every position is poll-tested, every word is carefully chosen,” Tasini enumerates. “She votes for an immoral war, supports the death penalty, promises jobs, and supports free trade—that destroys jobs in our state.” He’s still hoping for that Lamont bounce—then maybe people will listen. But Lamont, who spent $4 million of his own money on his campaign, refuses to endorse Tasini. The most recent filings show Tasini had $12,000 left in the bank after raising some $130,000 in mostly small donations; Clinton has $22 million on hand, and last week enthusiastically backed Lamont. “No hat, no cattle, no cash, no Tasini,” says Hank Sheinkopf, a longtime Dem consultant. “He’s got an argument that doesn’t work, against a candidate where it won’t stick, in a state where no one cares. Other than that, he’s fine.”

Then again, Tasini points out that he was polling at about 13 percent in July, slightly higher than Tom Suozzi (then at about 10 percent against Eliot Spitzer) and about the same as where Lamont was—in February. The Clinton camp is on low alert. She’ll likely debate him on September 6, insiders say, but her people want to forbid Tasini from asking Clinton questions. Her spokesman, Howard Wolfson, says no plans are set. “We’ll see how the campaign develops.”

Have good intel? Send tips to intel@nymag.com.


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