ALBANY, N.Y. – Evidence that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton may be leaning toward state Comptroller H. Carl McCall in the race for New York governor is increasing despite her continued public neutrality.
McCall is battling Andrew Cuomo, a federal Housing Secretary under former President Clinton, in the race to challenge Republican Gov. George Pataki's bid for a third term.
Last week, aides to the former first lady said she had given the go-ahead for her top fund-raiser, Vivian Santora, to go to work for the McCall team.
Then, on Wednesday, McCall campaign spokesman Steven Greenberg said a former top political aide in the Clinton White House and operative in Al Gore's presidential campaign, Eric Eve, had joined the comptroller's campaign as a senior adviser.
The senator's top political adviser, Harold Ickes, has been unofficially advising McCall for months, Greenberg said Wednesday. Another top McCall aide, Barry Sample, was a key operative in Sen. Clinton's 2000 campaign.
Both the senator and former President Bill Clinton have said they plan to remain neutral through the Sept. 10 Democratic primary and then campaign vigorously for the winner. Recent polls have shown Pataki with big leads over both Democrats.
However, The New York Times, quoting unidentified Clinton advisers, said Wednesday that the Clintons have concluded that a victory by McCall could help her political prospects and those of New York Democrats as a whole.
There is increasing speculation that the senator is eyeing a run for the White House in 2008 if the Democrats fail to take it back in 2004.
The Clintons are in a tough position since Cuomo, the elder son of former Gov. Mario Cuomo, was President Clinton's housing secretary for the final four years of his administration.
"I like and admire both Carl McCall and Andrew Cuomo, and feel indebted to both of them, for different reasons," the former president said in a statement given to the Times.
Still, McCall was one of the senator's earliest and most vocal backers as she prepared for her Senate race two years ago. He also is seeking to become the first black candidate elected governor of New York and black voters have always been a key constituency for the Clintons.
A statewide poll released last week by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute found McCall leading Cuomo, 47 percent to 31 percent, among Democrats likely to vote in the Sept. 10 primary.