Maer Roshan: The presidential race has been overshadowed by the turmoil in the Middle East. Does either candidate benefit politically from the crisis there?
Al D’Amato: Ordinarily, people don’t give a damn about foreign policy. But the Middle East has always been a special case, and I think this crisis will definitely benefit Bush. Let me explain why: As long as things are good and the economy’s chugging along, the incumbent always benefits. But there’s a perception now that things aren’t all right in the world, the economy is no longer as strong as it was. So people are more willing to make a change.
M.R.: Doesn’t Clinton’s skillful diplomacy during this crisis highlight Bush’s lack of foreign-policy experience?
Al: No, because Bush has put together a first-rate foreign-policy team. Take Cheney. People complained when Bush chose him that he lacked charisma, and that may be true. But few people match his grasp of world affairs. And if Bush chooses Powell as secretary of State, he has a foreign-policy squad that outshines Clinton’s.
Ed Koch: Watching the president in action at the summit, you can’t imagine Bush being as skillful. Other world leaders look up to Clinton. They won’t feel the same way about Bush. Or Gore, for that matter.
M.R.: Last night, Bush and Gore concluded their final debate with no clear winner emerging. What now?
Al: You know, a million things can happen between now and Election Day. Even the tiniest faux pas can change everything overnight. But Gore has the most to lose. He desperately needs to come off as likable, but he also can’t get caught embellishing the facts. It’s tough for poor Gore, because the fact is, he’s not likable, and he can’t help exaggerating facts. So he’s stuck. If I had to bet, I’d bet on Bush.
M.R.: Speaking of stuck, let’s turn to the Lazio campaign. A recent article in the Times quoted a number of unnamed Republicans who complained that Lazio’s campaign is off message and sputtering. Is there any way he can turn it around?
Ed: No, he’s finished! He’s gurgling! Lazio’s campaign is over. He’s like a little boy watching the parade go by. You did notice, Al, that the latest polls have Hillary leading Lazio by seven points?
Al: That’s meaningless, Ed! What you don’t know is that two weeks ago, Hillary was leading Lazio by ten points. He’s closing the gap!
Ed: Interesting little spin. I point out that Hillary is leading by seven points, and he retorts, “Well, two weeks ago, she was leading by ten!”
Al: Look, there’s no question that for a while, Lazio’s campaign was in trouble. His people allowed Hillary to define him instead of letting Lazio define himself. But now they have effective new ads that tell voters who he is. Lazio also benefits from the soft-money ban, which dried up Hillary’s funding. Now he has three times more money in the bank than she does, and he’ll use it to hammer her. And Bush’s momentum will lift Republicans all over.
Ed: Let me point out that he said Republicans will benefit, not Lazio. Al always picks his words very carefully.
Al: Well, Ed, let me point out that you sat here weeks ago and predicted a clean Democratic sweep of Congress and the presidency. Ready to eat your words?
Ed: I stand by my prediction. The issues in this election, from taxes to Social Security, favor the Democrats. We’ll take the House, the presidency, and the Senate. You’ll see!
M.R.: Doesn’t the death of Missouri’s Mel Carnahan reduce the Democrats’ chances of a Senate takeover?
Ed: No. Remember, Carnahan is still on the ballot there. The voters of Missouri may still vote for him even though he’s dead, because they want to prevent the Republicans from running away with the election.
Al: It’s true – in Missouri, people can vote for the dead. But in Jersey City, the dead can vote! Remember that old saying? Sings “When I die, bury me in Jersey City so I can still vote!”
Ed: Be careful, Al! The last time you sang in public you lost an election! Laughs.
M.R.: So we’re headed for a Subway Series. Does either of you have a dog in this fight?
Al: Chanting Mets! Mets! Mets! Enough of those pinstriped fat cats! It’s time the little guys had a chance. I predict the Mets will wipe the Yankees up!
Ed: Well, I guess if he’s for the Mets, then I have to support the Yankees. Now they’ll win, and it’s my gift to Rudy!