ALBANY, N.Y. – Is this a Senate race or country music? Cheating husbands. An out-of-wedlock child. Prison bars. Strong, independent women standing by their wayward men.
The stuff of late nights, neon-lit jukeboxes and smoky roadhouses? Not quite.
These women are Hillary Rodham Clinton (search) and Jeanine Pirro (search), both lawyers and both with homes in a tony suburb north of New York City, and they're on a possible political collision course.
Clinton is the former first lady seeking a second term as New York's junior senator, and just possibly eyeing a run for the White House in 2008. Pirro, a district attorney known for her cable television crime-case commentary, wants to be the Republican to challenge Clinton's 2006 re-election bid.
GOP boosters encouraged Pirro to run, reasoning in part that any liability presented by Albert Pirro, the disbarred lawyer-lobbyist who served 11 months in federal prison for tax fraud, would be canceled out by Bill Clinton's better-known White House affair with Monica Lewinsky.
"Hillary didn't seem to get hurt by whatever her husband did, so I think they would negate each other, and it would be, hopefully, Hillary versus Jeanine," Saratoga County GOP Chairman Jasper Nolan said in May when Pirro first said she might run for the Senate.
"The difference between Jeanine Pirro and Hillary Clinton is Jeanine Pirro's husband served time and Hillary's didn't," said Republican strategist Nelson Warfield. "Generally, you like your candidates to talk about convictions, but not their husband's convictions."
When Pirro announced Aug. 8 that she would run for Senate, she was immediately besieged with questions about her husband.
"This campaign is about me," she told The Associated Press that day. "There's only one person's name who's going to be on that ballot and that's Jeanine Pirro."
The next day's New York Post had a story about her husband with the headline "PIRRO'S HUGE `ALBERT'ROSS."
A day later, at an appearance in Manhattan, she was joined by her mother and daughter and one of the first questions was "Where is your husband?" Working, she responded.
Albert Pirro was on hand for a rally a couple of days later. He did not speak and she did not speak of him.
The following Monday, the Post used its front page to report on Albert Pirro's "LOVE CHILD PEACE BID," with photographs of his former mistress and 22-year-old daughter, born eight years after he married Jeanine. The daughter issued a statement about the story, saying "the claim that my father was trying to buy me off with a car is not true."
Albert Pirro (search) issued his own statement: "Jeanine and I have worked through this issue long ago, together, and with our children."
He has declined to talk to the media about what effect he may have on his wife's campaign.
Pirro's campaign Web site contains more than 100 photographs of her — none with her husband. While he has been a major fundraiser for other GOP candidates, her campaign aides said he would not be doing that for her.
Hillary Clinton's campaign Web site has 15 photographs, the majority including the former president, who is very popular in heavily Democratic New York state. And while Albert Pirro kept a low profile, Bill Clinton (search) was on CNN, talking up his wife.
Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic strategist who worked on President Clinton's 1996 re-election campaign, said the Pirros eventually will have to address the husband issue.
"The difference is, in New York state certainly, President Clinton has big numbers," Sheinkopf said. "In New York state, no one knows who Al Pirro is and, very frankly, very few people know who Jeanine Pirro is."