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Hillary’s Turn: Inside Her Improbable, Victorious Senate Campaign


Hillary’s Turn: Inside Her Improbable, Victorious Senate Campaign

The "quickie" book on some news event or political upheaval that rivets the nation's attention for a brief season is a durable literary tradition in this country. As soon as the dust settles --- often before it settles --- the clicking of word processors is heard in the land, and the lure of instant profits is practically inhalable.

Such books, however, are seldom memorable. Cobbled together in a hurry and often composed of prewritten journalistic material, they appear, have their instant in the sun and are soon rightly forgotten.

Michael Tomasky, a politics-watcher for New York magazine, may have beaten the odds with his breezy, savvy and colorfully written account of last November's surreal U. S. Senate campaign in New York, in which former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton overcame a stumbling start to win by a surprisingly large margin over the young Republican congressman Rick Lazio for the seat vacated by the Olympian intellectual Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

An "event" it surely was, capturing the whole country's attention second only to the Gore-Bush battle at the top of the ticket. It had a cast of characters unparalleled for political deviousness, influence, brassy New Yorkish assertiveness, and sheer colorfulness. Its 16-month course was marked by a steady stream of unexpected crises and weird surprises. And at the center of the storm stood three starkly contrasted people --- Hillary herself, the first First Lady ever to run for public office; the relatively unknown but ambitious Lazio; and Rudolph W. Giuliani, New York City's ruthless and loudmouthed mayor who was Hillary's first opponent until his campaign was destroyed virtually overnight by a combination of prostate cancer and marital problems.

The supporting cast was every bit as interesting, both those about whom the public knew (Bill Clinton, New York Governor George Pataki, Dick Morris, Al Sharpton) and those who worked in near-total anonymity behind the scenes on both sides, crafting the ads, plotting the strategy, and massaging the omnipresent media. Indeed, the New York media, unprecedented in its power and aggressiveness, is a character in the drama all by itself.

Tomasky writes as a New Yorker for New Yorkers (though he actually hails from Morgantown, W. Va.!). His book is full of "inside baseball" and the kind of revealing minutiae that political junkies --- especially New York political junkies --- love. He handles it all, however, with a deftness and fairness that is impressive. His book is breezy, bright and slangy, and it works nicely in conveying the mad and dangerous world of New York state politics. Sometimes he lets the pace flag while he backs up to fill in background, but this is a minor complaint in view of his overall achievement.

Another small cavil is Tomasky's failure to recreate the drama of election night itself, a standard set-piece in books of this sort. Perhaps the need for quick publication accounts for this odd omission.

One of the book's central themes is Hillary Clinton's need to define herself in personal terms to New York voters, something she was loathe to do and never succeeded in doing. For all his attention to this problem, Tomasky does not succeed in conveying her private essence any more than did anyone else involved in the drama. Even in victory, she remains an enigma. She wanted to be seen as issues-oriented, not as a barer of her soul to the public, and that's how she remained.

But on the twists and turns of the campaign itself, Tomasky is brilliant and entertaining. Many of these incidents were national news when they happened --- Lazio charging across the stage to confront Hillary during their first debate; Hillary courting the malodorous Sharpton; Giuliani's personal Götterdammerung; Trent Lott's nasty comment after Hillary finally won --- but Tomasky gives them life with his writing style. His thumbnail characterizations of the colorful crew of combatants in this battle are evenhanded and vivid.

You don't have to be a Hillary fan to enjoy this engrossing book (though it might help, given the outcome). Tomasky has caught a key moment in our political time and brought it jauntily to life.

Reviewed by Robert Finn ( on February 15, 2001

Hillary’s Turn: Inside Her Improbable, Victorious Senate Campaign
by Michael Tomasky

  • Publication Date: February 15, 2001
  • Genres: Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • ISBN-10: 0684873028
  • ISBN-13: 9780684873022