What to talk about now? Rudy vs. Hillary is over

NEW YORK - And now, the sounds of silence.

After months of ceaseless speculation and sound bites, New York's wildly hyped U.S. Senate race - Rudolph Giuliani vs. Hillary Rodham Clinton - has ended six months before a single ballot was cast.

Things in the world of political punditry will be a little less interesting. And a little bit quieter.

''It's not quite the same as it was before - Hillary vs. Rudy, the battle of the political heavyweights, the fight of the century,'' said ''Meet The Press'' host Tim Russert on Saturday, one day after Giuliani left the race. ''Those were two unique personalities.''

Indeed. Republican Rudy, with his hard-guy persona, against first lady Hillary, with her charm and carpetbag, was the race that loosed a thousand lips on talk shows, radio stations, news channels.

Substitute Rick Lazio, a somewhat obscure Long Island congressman, for Giuliani, and the race is just not as juicy.

''Mr. Giuliani's departure from the Senate race upends what seemed destined to be a battle of political titans,'' The New York Times observed in an editorial Saturday.

''Disappointing,'' agreed the Daily News in its own editorial, noting that ''New York and the nation'' had been eagerly watching this race.

They didn't mention the media, but they were watching too.

Giuliani's announcement Friday at City Hall was relocated to a bigger room to accommodate the media, which included a dozen channels providing live coverage. Clinton's news conference about Giuliani's decision was equally packed.

On Saturday, the mayor's stunning announcement made headlines everywhere from The Washington Post to the Drudge Report. Saturday afternoon, Lazio announced he was stepping into the race.

''Obviously, the interest will diminish somewhat,'' said Robert Hardt Jr., a New York Post reporter covering the campaign. ''But so much of the punditry is Washington-based, and they're still fascinated by Hillary.''

In many ways, the New York senate race overshadowed this year's presidential contest. Al vs. George (Gore and Bush, remember?) just didn't offer the allure that Rudy vs. Hillary had promised.

''The Senate race was full of surprises from day one,'' Russert said. ''It was remarkable. And it's only May.''

Don't expect the quiet to last too long. A showdown between Lazio and Clinton, while not a big deal in May, should heat up by November and create its own buzz.

''The new story line will be, 'Can the formerly unknown suburban Congressman topple the first lady?''' Russert said. ''I think the interest will continue.''


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