Rupe a new groupie in Hillary’s camp

Clinton's campaign gets a hug from Murdoch

“She’s in New York, he’s in New York, his network’s in New York, and she’s going to win.”

That’s what one media lobbyist says of Hillary Rodham Clinton and Rupert Murdoch’s newly cozy relationship. It also helps explain why the media baron is throwing a fund-raiser for the New York senator’s re-election bid.

Billionaire Murdoch, a staunch Republican whose News Corp. empire includes Fox News and the New York Post, will host the soiree this summer for the Democratic senator.

Murdoch’s Post once said the election of Clinton to the Senate would constitute a vote for “double-dealing and deception.” For her part, Clinton once placed Fox News at the center of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” against her and her husband.

But despite consistent support for conservative candidates, Murdoch has shown himself to be a political pragmatist before; Clinton has been steadily trying to win over conservative critics in equally pragmatic fashion.

Veteran political observers and players weren’t surprised.

The Clinton Senate re-election campaign is staying mostly silent about news of the fund-raiser, reported in Tuesday’s edition of the (London) Financial Times.

“I’m not contradicting the story but won’t add to it,” said campaign communications director Ann Lewis. “We don’t get into details about fund-raisers.”

Andrew Butcher, a spokesman for News Corp., said Murdoch’s newfound support for Clinton reflects her track record in the Senate. “Sen. Clinton has done a great job for New York,” Butcher said, while acknowledging the Post ardently campaigned against her election in 2000. “But that was before she was a senator.”

He added that Murdoch also has done a fund-raising event for New York’s other Democratic senator, Chuck Schumer.

Political analyst Charlie Cook said Clinton is the overwhelming favorite to win her re-election bid this year. “She’s not just going to win; she’s going to decimate the opposition,” he said. “It will not be pretty. I would’ve been surprised if Murdoch hadn’t done something like this.”

“Murdoch’s partisan interests are clear, but when personal interest is at stake, he has no trouble getting by them,” said Stuart Rothenberg, another political analyst and a commentator for CNN. “Hillary’s a major figure who’s going to be running for president one day, and everybody wants to have influence with the powerful.”

In preparation for her expected 2008 presidential campaign, Clinton has been working the other side of the aisle, too. Last year, she and Newt Gingrich, once the congressional archnemesis to President Bill Clinton, appeared together at a press conference to push health-care reform.

And while the Murdoch-controlled media outlets have menaced both Clintons in the past, Murdoch has learned that it doesn’t pay to have enemies in high places. During the Clinton administration, the Federal Communications Commission took a much less favorable view of News Corp.’s expanding reach than it has during the current Bush administration.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan org that tracks political contributions, Murdoch has personally donated more than $91,000 in the last five years, $84,000 of it to Republicans like Sens. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) and Arlen Specter (R-Penn.). His wife, Wendi Deng Murdoch, has given more than $14,000, with $12,000 going to GOP candidates.

But News Corp. as an entity is more erratic in its giving. Thus far into the 2006 election cycle, News Corp., ranking eighth among top media donors, has given out more than $253,000 – 48% to Democrats, 52% to Republicans. In 2004, News Corp. dispensed more than $611,000, with 74% going to Democrats, 26% to Republicans.

Murdoch’s helping Clinton is “a case of pragmatism trumping ideology,” Cook said.

“Reminds me of when he embraced Tony Blair’s candidacy early on,” said another media lobbyist, referring to Murdoch’s support for Blair’s campaign to become Britain’s prime minister. Blair, a liberal, reached out to News Corp. executives; Murdoch’s U.K. media properties endorsed Blair. Once in power, Blair’s deregulatory policies benefited Murdoch, according to the New Republic.

“Murdoch’s career has featured such episodes of putting business interests ahead of ideology,” the magazine reported.

Clinton herself has lunched with Murdoch, and her husband, the former president, has paid homage to him by seeking his counsel on world affairs.

That Clinton and Murdoch have much to offer each other is clear. But Murdoch may have more to lose.

“The downside of this is that people who know his publications have been critical of her will see how he’s now cozying up to her, and it’ll look phony and hypocritical,” said Rothenberg. “But if you decide you’re going to play the game — and the game is access to friends in high places — (helping Clinton) is a wise thing.”

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