“Jeanine and I had many conversations,” Long says. “I negotiated with her, and I passionately pleaded with her not to run for the U.S. Senate. I told her I thought the right fit for her was attorney general. I gave her the list of phone numbers of Conservative leaders from Niagara County to Montauk. I didn’t lock the door, but she knew how I felt.”
By early August, Long also thought he knew how Pirro felt. The two had dinner on a Thursday night. On Friday, Al Pirro called Long and said, “I think you finally got through to her. She’s going to run for attorney general.”
But Jeanine Pirro’s husband was apparently not privy to her innermost deliberations. The months of pressure had worn her down. “Jeanine practically began to see a Senate run as a duty or an obligation,” says a source. “When you have the White House calling and promising support like that, it can be very convincing.”
Pirro spent the weekend at her home in Harrison, huddled with Mahoney, in and out of meetings, reprising all the arguments one last time. Then on Monday morning, August 8, word began to leak that Pirro was running for the Senate. She formally announced on Wednesday. “The truth is,” says someone close to Pirro, “she was rushed out there to make the announcement so quickly so she wouldn’t have the opportunity to change her mind.”
As a result, there was no time to get her prepped. She didn’t get a copy of the announcement speech until Tuesday, the day before she had to deliver it. She did both the Today show and Good Morning America without even having an aide there to keep an eye on her. After months of hesitation and hemming and hawing, time that could’ve been used for planning and preparation, Pirro essentially was pushed out the cabin door without a parachute.
The most critical error of all (which, in the context of this fiasco, is saying something) may have been not educating her on the issues. She should have been sent to Washington to get schooled on tax policy, Medicaid reform, Social Security, farm subsidies, Iraq, Iran, and a host of other complex foreign and domestic issues she never had to deal with as a D.A. in Westchester.
Not only did she blow the announcement speech, but, sure enough, as soon as she was faced with the first budget question during a post-speech Q&A, she couldn’t answer it. A reporter asked what the actual dollar impact on the federal deficit would be if the Bush tax cuts were made permanent.
“The truth is, she was rushed out so quickly so she wouldn’t have a chance to change her mind.”
Even if it was a “gotcha” question, she still should have been able to finesse her way through. If she had her legs under her and felt comfortable with the issues, she undoubtedly would’ve cruised right past it. That was only the beginning of her difficulties with the media. The New York Post surprised a lot of people by mercilessly beating up on Pirro from the moment she got in the race. This editorial decision was a surprise because Hillary had always been one of the tabloid’s favorite targets. The Pirro coverage, however, was brutal. The paper set the tone with a huge front-page headline: LOVE CHILD PEACE BID. The story included photos of Al Pirro’s onetime mistress and the child he fathered with her, a now-22-year-old woman.
“Look, that’s what they do at the Post,” says someone in the Pirro camp. “They twist the news coverage and pass the events of the day through the prism of what they can do for political effect. Rupert has cut some kind of a deal with Hillary that extends through the 2008 presidential election. She’s been supportive of him, and he’s decided the paper will, in effect, support her.”
Once Pirro announced her candidacy and things didn’t go well, the calls from Washington stopped coming. Just like that. There was no more support, no more encouragement, and no more promises. Pataki, meanwhile, who has been friends with Jeanine and Al since his days as an unknown state assemblyman, was hedging his bets like a nervous gambler. Though he energetically participated in the effort to get Pirro to switch from the attorney general’s race—which is the office she wanted to run for all along—to the Senate race, apparently he was never completely convinced it was a good idea.
On August 10, the morning of Pirro’s announcement, the governor called Ed Cox and asked him to come to his executive chamber on Third Avenue. Up to that day, Cox had been the leading candidate for the Republican Senate nomination and the opportunity to challenge Hillary Clinton. A candidacy, by the way, that the governor had encouraged.