Volume 76, Number 16 | September 6 - 12, 2006

By Paul Schindler

“If you put my issues in one column and her issues in the other column, and you took our names off, I would win this primary and I don’t think it would be close.”

So said Jonathan Tasini, the would-be giant slayer, at the conclusion of a nearly one-hour interview on Aug. 31.

For the past nine months, Tasini, a former journalist and longtime leader in the fight for the rights and economic security of freelance writers, has traveled New York State in what many pundits characterize as a quixotic challenge to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s re-election.

That effort, much of it animated by Tasini’s fierce opposition to the Iraq War, will end with the Democratic primary next Tues. Sept. 12, and the challenger will surely be the loser by the vote tally.

But Tasini, 49, button-downed and precise in response to questions, betrayed neither fatigue nor bitterness, even as he chastised the media for what he characterizes as a “woeful” lack of engagement in the substance of the race. Instead, if the word can aptly be applied to a man with such low-key intensity and a nearly technocratic temperament, Tasini seems buoyed by the reaction he has gotten from voters and also from his unwavering conviction that they are on his side, on the issues, if not in the voting booth.

“It’s been really wonderful,” he said. “Even the people who say they aren’t going to vote for you are very receptive.”

In Tasini’s view, his stumbling block is getting his message out.

“Two-thirds of the voters, roughly two-thirds of the voters, say that they are against… they will support someone who is against the war, and only about 10 percent say they will support someone like Hillary Clinton who supports the war,” he said. “At the same time, about two-thirds of the voters say they don’t know who I am.

“I can’t advertise,” Tasini –– who has raised only $200,000 versus the estimated $33 million Clinton has in her coffers –– said of the challenges he faces in introducing himself and contrasting his views those of the former first lady. “And [she’s been] very cleverly obfuscating her position on the war and purposely trying to confuse voters and it’s why she doesn’t want to debate me because to debate me is going to make clear to voters where she stands.”

Pointing to the senator’s recent tough Armed Services Committee questioning of Bush’s defense secretary and her call for his resignation, he said, “Even Republicans are criticizing Donald Rumsfeld. So criticizing Donald Rumsfeld is not a significant change of position.”

Tasini returns again and again and again to the issue of the debates that he says the senator and the media are denying him and the voters of New York. He is harshly critical of Clinton for ducking a one-on-one encounter with him. He is withering in his barbs aimed at New York 1 News for its refusal to include him in the debate and candidate town hall events it is hosting in a number of primary races.

“It’s going to be a big chapter in my book,” said the former journalist.

Beyond the war, Tasini said of Clinton, “I think that that if you look at the record and not at the hype and the press releases and the spin, she’s been a mediocre senator. She’s hasn’t taken leadership on very many major issues. The major issues where she’s taken a position, often she’s been wrong.”

Tasini listed the flagging Upstate economy, “so-called free trade” and NAFTA, which he termed “a disaster,” flag burning and marriage rights for same-sex couples.”

Democrats nationally, in Tasini’s view, are suffering a crisis of leadership.

“To some extent one of the reasons I’m in this race is to put some spine in the Democratic Party because I think the Democratic Party has lost its way,” he said.

Despite the fact that Tasini is informed, articulate, and even compelling in making arguments that many Democrats believe need to move center stage in the national debate, his candidacy has not attracted the glamour and insurgent support that Ned Lamont, who was able to take from his own deeper pockets, attracted in his successful primary challenge to Senator Joe Lieberman in Connecticut.

In an online poll of its New York State members, moveon.org found 56 percent for Clinton versus 44 percent for Tasini, though the incumbent failed to reach the two-thirds threshold for endorsement.

In a written statement Sept. 1 about the moveon.org results, he stated, “These results are a broader indicator than other polls that have come out because they give the opinion of many more voters among the Democratic activist base. I am very heartened by the outcome.”

And Cindy Sheehan, who lost her son in Iraq and has dogged President George W. Bush over the war, is supporting his challenge to Clinton. Tasini also pointed to endorsements by Village Independent Democrats and Downtown Independent Democrats.

Among leading gay clubs, both the Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats and the Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City are with Clinton, despite her opposition to marriage equality.

Asked about the paucity of organized gay support for his candidacy, Tasini said, “Most organizations, whether in the gay community or not, do not want to take on a powerful incumbent who has a powerful machine — they make lists and they remember who’s not with them.”

Yet the insurgent candidate seems most concerned about the inability of New Yorkers to enjoy an open and spirited discussion of vital issues and with the failure of the media to provide a forum.

“That’s the sad thing about it,” he said. “It’s not me personally; I think I’d be a fantastic United States senator — but the fact that people are not going to have the senator in this state who represents what they want.”

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