Washington Prowler

Schumer School

Hillary learns a lesson in seniority. Plus: Left Coast softies.

By 8.13.02

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IT'S GOING TO BE A LONG, LONELY SCHUMER
Sen. Hillary Clinton may still be trying to figure out what to do with the New York Democratic gubernatorial primary, but it's certain what she wants to do to her colleague Sen. Chuck Schumer. "It's not printable," says a Clinton Hill aide.

Her anger at Schumer, greater than it usually is for the publicity hungry pol, is the result of his decision to endorse New York state comptroller Carl McCall over former Clinton administration official Andrew Cuomo for the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican Gov. George Pataki. Depending on whom you speak to, the two New York senators either had an agreement to hold off on any endorsement (Clinton spin) or there was never an agreement about anything (Schumer spin).

"We've been following the lead of [DNC chief] Terry McAuliffe," says the Clinton staffer. "That line has been, let the best Democrat win, then have the party support that winner completely. Look at the mess the White House and some congressional leaders have created by sticking their noses into the Republican primaries too early. You haven't seen much of that on the Democratic side."

But Schumer's quick endorsement of McCall has certainly led to some problems, mostly for Clinton. Had she had her choice, she most likely would have also endorsed McCall, who insiders say has sought out advice from her husband on political and campaign matters. The Clinton and Cuomo camps have circled each other warily for years, and Hillary had no interest in endorsing her hubby's ex-Cabinet member. "She wasn't that thrilled about the guy before all this happened, she sure as hell doesn't want to endorse him now, after Schumer's stolen her thunder," says the staffer. "She looks like an also-ran."

"She'd look like a junior Senator, that's the problem. But that is exactly what she is, whether she likes it or not" says a Schumer staffer in New York. "The boss had every right to make an endorsement. In many ways he is the senior Democratic leader for the state. He has always taken a role in state party doings, and he's a friend of McCall's. The endorsement was a perfectly natural thing to do."

But the timing did seem a bit off. According to a Washington-based Schumer aide, the McCall endorsement last July 22 was intended to give Schumer get a bit of publicity back home at a time when Clinton was getting the bulk of the press. In the past month or so, her name has sprung up in rumors about her vice presidential viability, not to mention the glowing press she received for her speech at the Democratic Leadership Council conference held in Manhattan. "She's been everywhere. She's in demand for fundraisers, for party events," says a Schumer aide in Washington. "It was probably time for the senator to step out and get some of the spotlight for himself. And it puts Clinton in a bit of a bind."

It's not clear what Clinton will do. One school of thought says she will not endorse McCall, but instead will wait for the primary to play out and then step forward and help the winner -- expected to be McCall -- fundraise. "He needs her a lot more than he needs Schumer. We'll see who he brings up state with him when he campaigns," says the New York Clinton aide.

SPENDING TIME
The Democratic National Committee has sent out its big gun to make one more push for large chunks of soft money with the friends in Hollywood. Former President Clinton, whose arm does not have to be twisted to get him out to the Left Coast, has been spending some time there, dining in hot spots last month with such Democratic big-wigs as producer Steve Bing and TV mogul Haim Saban. Together, the two have probably ponied up more than three-quarters of a million to the party.

"They love Clinton, and every time we put them together it seems there is a payoff for the party," says a DNC staffer. Never mind the indelicate use of terms, the DNC-er is right. "Not everyone who gave big during his administration wants to see him out there," said the staffer, not naming names. "But we know there are some big-money types who like to hang with him, and he enjoys spending time with them too."

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