Voters Ponder NY Debate as Both Sides Spin

By Justin Torres | July 7, 2008 | 8:26 PM EDT

( - Throughout the day Thursday, partisans on both sides of New York's contentious Senate race traded shots as to who won the debate between First Lady Hillary Clinton and Rep. Rick Lazio.

The spin on both sides reflected the campaigns' strategies: the Clinton camp attempted to drive up Lazio's negatives by painting him as an extremist, while Lazio hammered home the First Lady's carpetbagger status.

"The voters of New York have declared Hillary the clear winner of last night's debate," said Clinton campaign manager Bill de Blasio. "Once again, the voters have decisively chosen Hillary's campaign of issues over Rick Lazio's campaign of insults."

Not surprisingly, Lazio's camp had a different view.

"New Yorkers saw a clear difference between the two candidates for Senator Moynihan's Senate seat tonight," said Lazio campaign manager Bill Dal Col. "Where Congressman Lazio has proven his leadership abilities, Hillary Clinton has no record of legislative accomplishment and New Yorkers saw that stark contrast tonight."

Political observers on both sides echoed the candidates' lines.

"He finally came out swinging and made her answer some questions," said George Marlin, Conservative Party activist and former New York City mayoral candidate. "New Yorkers aren't going to be put off by nice photo ops."

Democrats, for their part, hit Lazio for his "negativism," especially for raising the specter of President Clinton's sexual misconduct.

"Lazio was negative, negative, negative, and Lazio better remember that President Clinton wasn't [convicted in his impeachment trial] - so hitting Hillary for Lewinsky isn't going to work," state Sen. Eric Scheidermann told a New York talk show Thursday.

And what do the voters think about Wednesday's often-heated debate?

According to wire reports, an immediate poll by the New York Daily News broke Clinton's way, 49 percent to 36 percent.

But experts say it is likely that perceptions of the debate will continue to form over the next several days.

"There's no way to really get a sense of what the public thinks until a day or two after the polling, as things sink in," said Douglas Schwartz, director of the Quinnipiac Poll, which has covered the Clinton-Lazio race closely.