Second Senate Smackdown

Memo to: Hillary (“Pantsuit”) Clinton, and Rick (“The Paper Boy”) Lazio

From: Vince McMahon, chairman, New York League of Already Decided Voters

Re: Gladiator II, The Rematch

Dear Hill and Rick:

Well, we caught the first debate. We tuned in, we turned on. We were psyched, we were pumped, we were locked and loaded, waiting for some major-league U.S. Senate gladiatorial debate action. We were–to use my trademarked catch phrase–“Ready to Rumble.” And, to put it bluntly (which is, of course, the only way I know how put it), we were mightily disappointed.

Sure, there were some sparks. And some Bush-league pyrotechnics. But listen up, people: This is the real-life version of Survivor . And although you get credit for trying, let’s face the heavy metal: Nobody scored a decisive smackdown; nobody delivered the see-you-at-Nassau Coliseum-for-a-sold-out-pay-per-view-rematch kind of steel-cage death match that today’s discerning audience demands.

You know what I mean?

O.K., let me spell it out for you: With both sides declaring victory, you made your already-committed constituents feel good. But there was no tectonic shift in the polls. All 26 Empire State voters who were undecided before the debate remain so; there was no discernible movement among those in comas or on life support, and the rest of us pretty much just wish we could vote tomorrow and get the damn thing over with already. So allow me–the guy who taught Jesse Ventura everything he knows about moving the body electorate–to offer a few tips, criticisms and suggestions in order to amp up your next encounter.

First, Hillary. Lets face it, Hill–you got trouble. Entire forests have been pulped to explain why so many women still resent you, when it’s fairly simple: They came to New York, struggled to find a job, got hit on by guys at the office, suffered through a billion blind dates, scrimped for an apartment and fought for respect, while you waltzed in here with a sense of entitlement just slightly larger than the land mass of the 32 upstate counties.

The antidote? Instead of defending yourself over not being a New Yorker, just start acting like one. Lose the sound bites, dump the overweening syntax and try peppering the following phrases into your speeches: “Am I right, or what?”; “Gotta problem with that?”; “Let’s take it outside”; “Sez who?”

Just think how differently the Tim Russert right-wing conspiracy exchange might have gone if, instead of doing a road-show Bill Clinton (bite the lower lip, appear hurt), you’d snapped back: “Mea culpa this , pal.” (Personally, I would have smacked the media monkey over the head with a folding chair, but I’m trying to keep my own politics out of this. Still, keep this in mind for later in the campaign. As we say in New York: It couldn’t hurt. And it might help.)

A few other specifics:

1) Deep-six the Newt Gingrich references. He’s old news; it’s a little too transparent. You’d do better asking Little Ricky what he’s done about electric rates on Long Island.

2) Next time the Rickster thrusts a piece of paper in your face, just sign the damn thing. You’ll look spontaneous and self-assured; you can always wriggle out of the agreement off-camera. (And never ever go ironic, congratulating someone on their performance. It only highlights your own.)

3) I lost count how many times you talked about “my travels around the state.” You’re running for Senate, H illary. Not the head of the automobile club. We get the picture. But remember: New York isn’t just a physical location. It’s a state of mind. Got it? Now get outta here, and start practicing with those folding chairs.

Mr. Lazio: Ricky, Ricky, Ricky, what are we gonna do with you? It’s not just that you don’t sound Senatorial. Or even that you might make us long for the mellifluous cadences of Alfonse D’Amato. But by the fourth time you used the phrase “Let me tell you…,” you began to sound not so much like a Senatorial candidate as a junior car salesman working the lot at Sunrise Hyundai: “Lemme tell you, you want the undercoating. You want the convenience light group. You want the clear coat. And lemme tell ya, pal: You want the V-8 with the tow-package tranny.”

With this in mind, try dropping some of these phrases into your public discourse. They will help to lend an air of gravitas to your cause: “Elmira”; “Rochester”; “Kingston”; “foreign policy”; “Oswego”; “gross domestic product”; “minimum wage”; “Poughkeepsie” (pronounced Poe-kip-see –it’s a city in upstate New York).

Then, of course, there’s the Hillary problem. On the one hand, Rickster, you have to attack. But on the other, you really don’t want to bash the Hill too hard. Because–despite your campaign manager’s game plan of going brutally negative in the last three weeks–it won’t work, and will most certainly backfire. Let me put it like this: The voters want to punish Hillary. Don’t do it for them and bring out the sympathy vote.

And finally, one last piece of advice: Play it a little lighter. Let the media do the heavy lifting for you. Is Hillary misusing Air Force planes to ferry around big-ticket donors? You bet she is. Are the Clintons still selling the Lincoln Bedroom? Of course they are. But don’t get mad. Get laughs. Simply announce that the Lazio campaign is guilty of providing free transportation on the Long Island Railroad, and really big-ticket donors stay absolutely free in the F.B.I.’s Mafia Chieftain Sweat-Out Suite at the Islandia Hampton Inn, conveniently located just off the scenic Long Island Expressway, with cable in every room, a free all-you-can-eat brunch and a complimentary copy of Newsday under your door every morning.

(And if you get asked about Alec Baldwin’s recent statement that he’s leaving the country if George W. is elected, there’s only one proper response: That pretty much swings the vote in New York; I hear the pollsters are now predicting a Bush landslide.)

So that’s it on Campaign 2000 from yours truly, Vince McMahon. Let’s work on those body slams and practice with those folding chairs.

But I do leave you with one important question: Were Tip O’Neill alive today, do you think he would have said all politics is local, or trivial?