When Hillary Clinton put on a Yankees cap last June, in the early stages of her Senate campaign, it was seen as the height of political opportunism -- never mind that Clinton could cite a 1992 Washington Post article that said she followed both the Cubs and the Yankees as a girl. As it turns out, her choice of headgear really was a big mistake -- but for an entirely different reason.
Hillary Clinton should have worn a Mets hat. Among Mets fans, the Senate race is a blowout: Clinton 57 percent, Lazio 39 percent, according to a poll conducted by Global Strategy Group and the Polling Company for New York. Lazio holds a slim lead, 46 to 44, among Yankees fans. As baseball's most rancorous rivalry heats up in the postseason, there's more than a Subway Series at stake.
Mets fans' support of the Clinton campaign is by no means official policy. "I'm surprised," says Mets marketing director Kit Geis. "Lazio is from Long Island, and so is nearly a quarter of our fan base -- a close second to Queens." Not only that, but Lazio, who was photographed a couple of weeks ago hugging Mets manager Bobby Valentine at Shea Stadium, comes by his Mets allegiance honestly. "I went to a Mets playoff game in 1969," he told me last summer. "In '86, I was a Keith Hernandez guy. I liked that Keith was a good clutch hitter, kinda graceful, had a good glove, not really flashy, but dependable."
The poll reveals some demographic clues to the baseball fans' political affinities. Half the Mets fans are between the ages of 35 and 54, making them baby-boomers like Clinton; Yankees fans are younger, with half of those polled under 44. Yankees fans are more Republican (32 to the Mets' 23 percent), wealthier (15 percent claiming incomes above $90,000 a year, compared with 7 percent of Mets fans), and less Jewish (9 to 15 percent).
"A Yankee fan is a traditionalist," says a 46-year-old electrical contractor standing in the beer line at Yankee Stadium last week, wearing a Yankees hat and warm-up jacket. Down in the $70 field-box seats with his dad, 36-year-old printer Mitch Katz says, "Yankees fans are more rooted. The Mets moved in on somebody else's turf -- just like Hillary."
Dr. Laura Popper, 54, is a pediatrician, not a psychiatrist, but she has a firm analysis of her fellow Mets diehards. "Mets fans are the progressive good guys, and the Yankees fans are the fascists," she says. "If they're voting for Lazio, they deserve him."
Something more powerful than any policy position cements the Mets-Clinton axis: Rudy Giuliani, known in the immortal words of Mike Lupica as "the Yankee mascot." For Mets fans, seven years of Giuliani's satin-jacketed boosterism has been awfully hard to take, and during the Mets' first-round playoff series with the San Francisco Giants, the mayor gave Mets fans one more cattle prod toward the Clinton-for-Senate lever. With the tense third game of the series deadlocked after nine innings, Giuliani left to go to the Yankees game. For Mets fans, this was the political equivalent of Roger Clemens beaning Mike Piazza. There's a long tradition of jeering politicians at sporting events, but the next day, when Giuliani arrived -- late -- for last Sunday's game and then took a box seat next to the Giants' dugout, the booing was the most visceral I've ever heard. Rick Lazio had better hope that sound doesn't resound in the voting booths next month.