U.S. Senate candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton was on a roll in Buffalo on Thursday, refusing to let up for a moment on her Republican opponent's approach to upstate economic problems.
During an address before the business-oriented Rotary Club, then in remarks to reporters and finally in an interview with The Buffalo News, Clinton hammered away at what she called Rep. Rick A. Lazio's lack of a plan for attacking the relatively slow pace of job growth in places like Buffalo.
"He persists in ignoring the reality that's there for all to see, and he's doing a real disservice to people here in Western New York," she told The News. "Here is a chance to engage on the most important issue in this part of the state, and he doesn't want to do that."
Clinton said there are "indisputable facts" backing her claim of an upstate economy in the doldrums, and in her sharpest attack yet on the subject, she slammed Lazio for glossing over population loss and the drain of young people to more prosperous areas. While promising the upstate economy would rank as her No. 1 priority as a senator, she said she doubts the Long Island congressman can offer anything other than the series of tax cuts he has proposed as an economic stimulus.
"As of yesterday, he hadn't (offered more), and I doubt he will," she said. "He has a different idea of what the challenges are and what the solutions are than I do."
The condition of the upstate economy has ranked as a major flash point between the two candidates ever since they both addressed questions on the subject during their Sept. 13 debate in Buffalo. Lazio said then that Clinton has painted upstate
as an "economic wasteland," a picture he said does not accurately reflect the quickening pace of progress.
But the disagreement has grown sharper in recent days, as Lazio continued the theme during a visit to Buffalo earlier this week that dwelled on positive developments like the growth of Chek.com, a downtown computer services firm. That led County Executive Joel A. Giambra, a Republican who introduced Lazio at the Tuesday event, to urge the candidate to get more specific.
Giambra noted that while the upstate region has made noticeable gains, it has a long way to go. He also said it was time for Lazio to give voters a reason to vote for him.
"I was pleased the county executive recognized that," Clinton said Thursday.
Lazio spokesman Bryan Flood said the first lady is only trying to distract voters from her plan, which he called a "few scattershot proposals, all of which will require New Yorkers to jump through more federal hoops."
He pointed to Lazio's August address before the Amherst Chamber of Commerce, when he proposed lowering or eliminating a number of taxes as a way to spur economic growth.
"That plan includes a new job creation tax credit as well as elimination of the marriage penalty and death tax, which Mrs. Clinton opposes," Flood said. "The Lazio plan is endorsed by a number of nonpartisan groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Survival Committee, the National Taxpayers Union and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
"It's a balanced, fiscally responsible plan to help lower the tax burden on New Yorkers and spur more job growth across the state," he added.
But Clinton clearly recognized the potential political fodder of the topic Thursday and worked it over and over again. She told the Rotary Club that she proposed a series of "targeted" job creation ideas on the first day of her candidacy back in February, adding the upstate economy delineates the differences between her and Lazio as much as any other campaign issue.
"My opponent unveiled a general tax cut and labeled it an economic plan," she said. "I've proposed a plan to bring new jobs to New York and upstate into the new economy, through skills alliances, lower utility rates, tech bonds and tax credits for areas losing population.
"My opponent has said that upstate has already turned the corner," she continued. "Maybe he just hasn't seen what I've seen. I believe that too much of upstate is a long way from fulfilling its promise."
All of this came on a day when a New York Times/CBS poll reported Clinton leading Lazio by 48 percent to 39 percent, while a Marist College poll showed her tied with Lazio. Both polls also found evidence that Lazio may have been hurt by his move to get Clinton to sign an agreement banning raising and spending of soft money.
Clinton told reporters Thursday that she looks forward to the results of meetings between the two campaign staffs on the soft-money issue.
"If there is anything possible, we will certainly look into it," she said, claiming to have initiated the proposal to ban soft money months ago.