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First lady promises to curtail official duties to concentrate on Senate race

SHARE First lady promises to curtail official duties to concentrate on Senate race

NEW YORK (AP) -- Promising to curtail her duties as first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton ended speculation Tuesday that she was getting cold feet about a Senate campaign.

"The answer is yes. I intend to run," she said, telling supporters she would live in New York and only appear in Washington "from time to time" while President Clinton finishes his term in the White House.Mrs. Clinton made the comment after United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, an ardent supporter, asked her: "So, is it yes, or is it no?"

Mrs. Clinton made her commitment to the race amid rumblings from both critics and supporters that her potential candidacy against likely Republican challenger New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was floundering. Her advisers said the announcement was choreographed to head off Democratic defections and end speculation she was having second thoughts about seeking the seat.

Last week, state Democratic Chairwoman Judith Hope politely suggested it was time for Mrs. Clinton to "give up her day job." On Saturday, City Councilwoman Ronnie Eldridge, a Democrat, said she thought Mrs. Clinton shouldn't run. And on Tuesday, state Senator Carl Kruger of Brooklyn, also a Democrat, endorsed Giuliani.

Mrs. Clinton took their cue and assured her supporters that she would move to "my house" in Westchester as soon as the Secret Service allows.

"I will still be in Washington from time to time. I have to be," she said. "There are many things that I will still have to attend to, but I will be living in Westchester and I'll be traveling around the state and campaigning."

Bruce Teitelbaum, who is running Giuliani's nascent campaign, dismissed Mrs. Clinton's statements Tuesday as "political doubletalk. It was actually a non-announcement. Seems to me that what happened today was an announcement about a press conference to announce that she intends to announce next year."

But Hank Sheinkopf, a New York-based Democratic consultant, said Mrs. Clinton's announcement "puts New York Democrats more at ease, squelches the rumors that she may not go and puts more direction back into her campaign."

Until Tuesday, Mrs. Clinton had also studiously avoided direct references to Giuliani. But for the first time, in response to a question, she actually uttered his name, saying: "Ultimately this election is not going to be about me or Rudy Giuliani. It's going to be about the issues that concern the people of New York."

Tuesday's event was Mrs. Clinton's first appearance in New York since returning from the Middle East. The trip has been portrayed as a political disaster by her critics because she sat silently while Yassir Arafat's wife accused the Israelis of using poison gas against the Palestinians. Mrs. Clinton later condemned Soha Arafat's allegations as baseless, and she defended her conduct again Tuesday.

"I know there are people who have said if they'd been in the position I found myself in, they'd create an international incident of some kind," she said. "But I went there to demonstrate our strong commitment to Israel and Israel's security and future, and I felt that was my primary obligation. I was grateful when Prime Minister Barak said my trip to Israel had been successful and had furthered the peace process."

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak made his comments in Manhattan over the weekend while the first lady was still abroad.

Mrs. Clinton added that her "listening tour" -- which began last summer and has taken her to 35 counties around the state -- convinced her that "this is a campaign that needs to be made; that the issues at stake are important ones, and that I have a lot that I want to say about it."