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The Perils of Jeanine

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At the hastily arranged meeting, Pataki told Cox he was going to endorse Pirro for Senate and appear with her later that day when she announced her candidacy. Before he ended the meeting, according to someone close to Cox, the governor told Cox not to make any hasty decisions about pulling out of the race, because he wasn’t sure Pirro was going to last.

“Look,” this source says, “the governor never went out of his way to do anything for her after the initial announcement. There were no more campaign appearances, no statements on her behalf. That should tell you how he really felt. He did what he did because he had to, not because he wanted to.”

Most of the blame for Pirro picking the Senate race and then entering woefully unprepared has fallen on her friend and adviser Kieran Mahoney, one of the most successful Republican political consultants of the past fifteen years.

Mahoney says that the tax-cut inquiry was a “bullshit question” and that most sitting senators couldn’t answer it. And in any event, it was the only one Pirro couldn’t handle, which hardly constitutes being unprepared. The Q&A, he says, was clearly not the problem.

The matter of Mike Long and the Conservative Party endorsement would seem to be a more difficult issue to sidestep. It was Kieran’s father, Dan Mahoney, who founded New York’s Conservative Party in the sixties as a counterweight to the politics of Nelson Rockefeller. Mahoney believes that Long would’ve come around eventually. He wouldn’t have had much of a choice, Mahoney says, because neither Cox nor Spencer would have been viable over the long haul.

“The press constantly engages in navel-gazing,” he says. “They read what they collectively write about a campaign and then say that’s what’s going on. I almost never pay attention to what you guys are writing, and I’m usually running a campaign. There’s a disconnect here. Either I’m an idiot or what you guys are writing about isn’t what’s really going on.”

Mahoney says there are three critical big-picture keys to really understanding and assessing any campaign: the candidate’s message, the political support, and the financial support. Judged by these standards, the Pirro candidacy still looks poorly conceived and executed. The closest thing to a message was its mantra, which never connected with voters, that Hillary Clinton’s real goal is to run for president in 2008 and she won’t complete her Senate term.

Nor was the political or financial support there once Pirro came out of the gate stumbling. The campaign was so desperate for traction, in fact, that the final fund-raising letter, mailed shortly before Pirro withdrew, was essentially a bash–Bill Clinton missive. Despite Hillary Clinton’s legendary golden-goose status as a matchless fund-raising tool for the Republicans (hapless Rick Lazio raised $10.7 million, with only one fund-raising letter, over seven weeks), Pirro only raised $1.7 million in six months.

As the weeks wore on, the experience became excruciating for Pirro. She was being humiliated. But as someone who’d grown up in a working-class family and who’d fought for everything she’d accomplished, she was determined not to be seen as a quitter.

The only one who remained committed to the Senate bid besides Pirro herself was Mahoney. “Kieran is almost like Svengali or Rasputin,” says Mike Edelman, a Pirro friend and Republican political commentator based in Westchester. “He had this magical hold over her. I don’t understand it; his record’s not all that great.”

Rather than talk Pirro down from the ledge and encourage a graceful exit, Mahoney stubbornly stood by yelling “Jump! Jump!” “He kept telling her to hang in there, that it would all blow over,” says a Pirro confidante. (Mahoney will have no official role in Pirro’s campaign for attorney general.)

“Jeanine was really shocked at how the Governor behaved,” says a friend. “He urged her to get into the race and then just abandoned her.”

Of course, it didn’t all blow over. Once it was clear her campaign was essentially dead on arrival, it wasn’t long before everyone who had pushed her to get into the race disappeared. The White House never called. The governor never said a word on her behalf, and the party chairs who signed the draft-Jeanine letter now clamored for her to get out.

“Jeanine was really shocked and upset over the way the governor behaved,” says someone close to her. “They’ve been friends a very long time. He urged her to get in the race, and then he just abandoned her.”

Edelman is even more direct. “It’s unbelievable that the governor has the nerve to be publicly mad at her when he, based on Mahoney’s input, was the primary moving force behind her candidacy. It’s shocking. He should be ashamed of himself for blaming Jeanine. But once you surround yourself with sycophants and yes-men, you lose the ability to make the right choices.”


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