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SCORE ONE FOR THE FIRST LADY

Hillary Rodham Clinton faced about 75 New York State newspaper editors and reporters, as well as the usual media horde that follows her, last week in Albany.

Say what you will about the first lady, but she doesn't miss much.

Her Republican opponent, Rep. Rick A. Lazio, had spoken to the editors at the New York State Associated Press Association meeting an hour before and, with a flourish designed to put her on the defensive, met her stated challenge to no longer accept soft-money contributions from special interests.

With him was Mike Murphy, a top Lazio campaign adviser. After Lazio left, Murphy stayed behind to listen to Clinton.

As she answered a question, Murphy, crouching to avoid the television cameras, sneaked across the room to talk to New York Post reporter Robert Hardt Jr.

Hardt then immediately asked Clinton whether her staff would meet that night with Lazio's to discuss the soft-money limits.

Clinton answered that she would see that her staff got involved. Then she sized up Hardt in front of his colleagues for asking a question apparently planted by the Lazio campaign:

"Is this Mike Murphy's question or yours, Bob?"

Hardt sputtered a response, but she cut him off.

"I appreciate your being independent from the Lazio campaign," she added sarcastically.

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