Pirro Debuts…But Where’s Page 10?

Jeanine Pirro kicked off her campaign a couple of minutes after 11:00 in the Conrad Suite of the Waldorf Astoria today, a room about five times as large as the tiny press room in the Westchester District Attorney’s office and packed with reporters and cameras.

Her self-definition: “I’m Republican red on fiscal policy with conservative beliefs on making tax cuts permanent, but I’ve got broad blue stripes on social issues that don’t change based on the office I run for.”

As with many campaign openings, it was a revealing appearance that demonstrated both Pirro’s considerable strengths — her sharpness on the attack and her charisma — and her serious weaknesses — ignorance of the issues and inexperience with the antagonistic political press.

She is, first of all, forceful and charismatic, camera-friendly, and just self-deprecating enough to pull it off. She has the strength of never having taken positions on most federal issues, and rattled off a well-tailored set:

Red issues: Supports Bush tax cuts, estate tax cut, war on terror, Patriot Act, Unborn Victims of Violence Act.

Blue issues: Pro-immigration , stem cell research, assault weapons ban, and choice (mostly).

She also went after Hillary, whom she always called by her first name alone. (No “Senator Clinton” here.) She accused her of breaking promises to create Upstate jobs, but most of all of some dishonesty in running for President while running for the Senate.

But Pirro’s weaknesses were also on display. She’s always faced the prosecutor’s friendly press room and doting television interviewers. She’s not quick on her feet. Halfway through her announcement, she began a sentence with disgust — “Hillary Clinton” — and then stopped dead for several seconds and looked pained. “I’m sorry. Could I have Page 10?” she whispered.

And she doesn’t know much about the issues on which she has newly taken positions. ABC’s Mark Halperin stumped her with a question about how much her tax cutting plans would expand the deficit. She responded to questions about withdrawing, or adding, troops to Iraq by saying she’d defer to the “experts,” among whose ranks the sitting Senator has inserted herself.

And her decision to be led into the event by her college-age daughter, and her mother, whose battle with cancer Pirro immediately mentioned, makes it harder to argue that Al’s travails are off limits. The campaign is about her, or it’s about her and her family, but it’s hard to pick and choose.

Of course, as her spokesman Mike McKeon noted after the press conference, it’s not like the questions about Al are going to vanish, whatever she may do.