For the first time involving himself directly in the bitter US Senate race in New York, President Bill Clinton has accused the Republican, Rudolph Giuliani, of enlisting a "right-wing venom machine" to ensure victory in November over Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Insisting that the Giuliani camp is already resorting to negative tactics to denigrate his wife, the President told an audience of union supporters at a fund-raising event in Washington: "The only way they can win is to convince people that we're space aliens."
The outburst comes at a time when polls show Mrs Clinton at least pulling even with Mr Giuliani after several months of lagging behind. Mr Giuliani, who is the Mayor of New York City, has been bruised bynew allegations of police brutality in the city after the shooting of an unarmed black man by officers.
But there was discouraging news for the First Lady last week, with the disclosure that Mr Giuliani has streaked ahead of her in the amount of money he has been able to raise. Mr Giuliani has, so far, amassed $19m (£12m) against Mrs Clinton's $12m. Democrats had long assumed their candidate would easily outstrip Mr Giuliani in fund-raising. His unexpected success is testament to the large numbers of people who have a strong dislike of the First Lady and who want to help stymie her run for office.
The President said: "This is not a complicated deal, and that's why Hillary's opponent can raise a double-ton of money besides being mayor and having special relations with a lot of those people who have it in New York. You have the right-wing venom machine all geared up against her again."
Yesterday, the Giuliani team struck back, recalling how Mrs Clinton used similar language to defend her husband when the Lewinsky scandal broke in January 1998. Bruce Teitelbaum, the mayor's campaign spokesman, said: "There they go again, invoking the vast right-wing conspiracy theory."
Mr Clinton's intervention will surprise some in the Democratic Party who had been glad to see him staying on the sidelines. While the President is widely regarded as a compulsive campaigner, he had apparently been advised to keep out of the fray. He drew laughter at the fund-raiser when he remarked: "I'm not running anything. And most days I'm OK with that."
Deciding on what distanceto keep between their candidate and her husband is a tough call for Mrs Clinton's advisers. Involving him would certainly carry the risk that she and her message would be cast into shadow. They also know that the President is more popular in New York than any other part of the country and is certainly more popular than the mayor.
Meanwhile, a new issue separates Mrs Clinton from the mayor. She said at the weekend that she supports the efforts of the administration to have Elian Gonzalez, the six-year-old Cuban, sent home from Miami. Mr Giuliani has said that he would support legislation in Congress to let the boy stay.Reuse content