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Pataki: I’ll Back Rudy if He Runs

August 6, 1999

NEW YORK (AP) _ Seeking to avoid a nasty primary fight, Gov. George Pataki said today that Rudolph Giuliani had ``earned the right″ to be the Republican Senate candidate from New York, and he encouraged the New York City mayor to enter the race as soon as possible.

Pataki, who has had a contentious relationship with Giuliani, said he would ask Rep. Rick Lazio to delay his scheduled announcement of a run for the seat left open by Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s retirement.

``In order to win, the Republican Party must be unified behind one strong candidate,″ Pataki said at a news conference. ``I believe that Rudy Giuliani has earned the right to be that candidate.″

Giuliani has yet to announce his candidacy for the Senate, but is widely expected to run against likely Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Pataki’s announcement could potentially defuse a primary fight between Giuliani and Lazio _ a struggle which could deplete their campaign funds and leave the winner vulnerable to the first lady. Similarly, a unified Republican Party could hurt Mrs. Clinton.

``Rick Lazio is an outstanding congressman who is a rising star in our party,″ the governor said. ``I predict great things for him. Nevertheless, I have asked Congressman Lazio to defer his announcement and await the mayor’s decision.″

Lazio has already said that he will announce his candidacy during the week of Aug. 16. In late July, Lazio spokeswoman Inez Sanzeri said, ``Rick is running. He is in this race to win it.″

Several Republican leaders, including state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and Staten Island Borough President Guy Molinari, have encouraged Lazio not to run against Giuliani.

Lazio has said he will not run if Pataki asks him to bow out of the race.

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