Poll suggests Lazio's debate tactics helped Clinton

Aggressive style left a sour taste, some voters say

By Fred Kaplan, Globe Staff, 9/18/2000

EW YORK - Representative Rick Lazio's aggressive tactics against Hillary Rodham Clinton seem to have done him no good in their debate last Wednesday night.

In a statewide poll of likely voters, published yesterday, the first lady came off as the debate's winner, Lazio was seen as too aggressive, and the state of play in their Senate race has not changed at all.

Clinton still leads 48 to 43 percent, which, given a 4.5 percent statistical margin of error, puts the two in a virtual tie. Nine percent are still not sure how they will vote.

Shortly after the debate, many political commentators picked Lazio as the winner, impressed with how swiftly and relentlessly he attacked Clinton's record and character.

However, a few interviews with ordinary voters suggested a different result. Women especially saw Lazio as a schoolyard bully and Clinton as revealing an appealing chink in her armor.

Yesterday's poll, commissioned by the Daily News and WCBS-TV, tends to confirm these interviews.

Asked which candidate did the better job, 39 percent said Clinton, 34 percent said Lazio, 10 percent neither, and 17 percent were unsure.

Forty-eight percent said Lazio was too aggressive, while 47 percent said he was as aggressive as he needed to be.

Perhaps most significant, Lazio's overall image has deteriorated. Just 42 percent of those polled now have a favorable opinion of the congressman. A week before the debate, another survey, by pollster John Zogby, put his positive rating at 59 percent.

Clinton has a better image, with 49 percent of voters holding a favorable opinion of her. She still has higher negatives, with 39 percent having an unfavorable view of her. But Lazio's negatives have risen as well, from 12 percent at the start of the summer to 30 percent now.

White women are particularly important ''swing voters'' in this election. More women than men gave the debate to Clinton.

The poll, taken Thursday and Friday, surveyed a random sample of 504 likely voters.

The candidates' second debate will take place Oct. 8, with a third match as yet unscheduled.