THE WITHDRAWAL of Rudolph W. Giuliani from a candidacy he had never declared transforms the election for New York senator from a battle of outsized personalities into a partisan clash of ideas and issues. That's what politics in a democracy is supposed to be.
Before, the race was turning on whom the voters despised more, Gotham City's Mayor Giuliani or first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. After, it turns on whether New Yorkers choose a liberal Democrat or conservative Republican to represent them, even whether they want a Democratic or Republican majority in the Senate.
That is worth voting for.
Rep. Rick A. Lazio, the bright Long Islander who was charging for the Republican nomination without serious rival before stepping aside for Mr. Giuliani, is all but anointed. He has a relevant record for Mrs. Clinton to attack.
He was one of Newt Gingrich's hard-right guys, who turned kinder and gentler after that leader's downfall. He will be defined by his side as a moderate and by his opponent as a radical conservative. They'll say a vote for him is a vote for Trent Lott of Mississippi to go on running the Senate and Jesse Helms of North Carolina to keep his thumb on foreign affairs.
Mrs. Clinton's negatives are still there. She is a carpetbagger in a state that has twice in a half-century sent one to the Senate. She is a relic of her husband's embarrassments, vulnerable to the final gasps of independent counsel Robert W. Ray.
Mr. Lazio is not as well-known as Mr. Giuliani. Money could help overcome that. Mr. Lazio deserves access to the millions raised by Mr. Giuliani from people whose aim was less to advance the mayor's career than to halt Mrs. Clinton's.
This was the race to watch because it was celebrity smackdown on prime time. Now it is about the principles to be legislated for this great nation. That's even better.