11:26 am Feb. 24, 20122
On Thursday night, at the Manhattan G.O.P.'s annual Lincoln Day Dinner, attorney Wendy Long made her first public appearance as an announced candidate for U.S. Senate.
"I am here to pledge a full-hearted campaign to win our nomination and defeat Kirsten Gillibrand in November," she told the partisan crowd of approximately 150 in a small upstairs ballroom at the National Republican Women's Club on East 51st Street.
With a shiny purple blouse and a trace of nerves in her voice, Long, a conservative judicial crusader and former clerk to Clarence Thomas who currently lives in Manhattan, said she grew up a "small-town girl" whose first job was shoveling manure out of stables. Her family is from Keene, N.H.
"I think it was good preparation for the task ahead," she said, to laughs, from a crowd that included congressmen Bob Turner and Tom Reed, and Republican and Conservative party chairs Ed Cox and Michael Long. (Wendy is not related to Michael.)
Long made a point of invoking the night's honoree, freshman Republican congressman Bob Turner, as an inspiration to her as a conservative candidate in a liberal state.
She said: "He is a man who showed us how to be ready when opportunity appears ... Bob Turner's lesson to us is, if he can make it there, we can make it anywhere."
Long, who recently served as counsel to a nonprofit called the Judicial Confirmation Network that opposed the nomination of liberal judges—including, most recently, the elevation of Sonia Sotomayor—said she was seeking to replace Gillibrand in order to return the country to its roots of limited constitutional government.
And she attacked Gillibrand as "our former moderate upstate congresswoman" who entered a "political witness protection program" upon being appointed to the Senate, and "emerged as the most doctrinaire liberal in the Senate."
"Senator Gillibrand has been a compliant 'yes' vote for the liberal orthodoxy in Washington," she said. "That is, unless she's complaining that the orthodoxy isn't far left enough."
She cited the recent National Journal rankings that rated Gillibrand as tied for the most liberal voting record in the upper chamber.
News of Long's candidacy had been reported by the Times Union a few hours before the event, and prior to her speech, Long made herself available for about 10 minutes to the three reporters who had shown up to see her.
"I'm basically running on the economy and jobs and the skyrocketing national debt and the failure of Gillibrand and other members of the liberal establishment to get the budget under control," she said of her campaign platform.
She also mentioned the Keystone Pipeline, and the "heavy hand" of government regulation.
Asked whether being a woman might help her succeed where other Gillibrand opponents have failed, Long said she didn't really know, and cited Gillibrand's voting record, and that National Journal ranking.
"Now that she's being identified as the extremist that she is, I think that's where the real contrast is going to be," Long said.
Given her work opposing the appointment of left-leaning judges—which often comes back to Roe v. Wade and the interpretation of a right to privacy—I asked Long about her position on abortion, and the recent debate over contraception.
"It's not an issue in this campaign, number one," she said. "There is no issue that's before us that's relevant in this campaign."
"I think there is a universal understanding among the legal community that Roe v. Wade was a very flawed legal decision," she said. "It's a horrible decision from a constitutional law standpoint, and even liberal law professors will tell you that.
"I believe that the issue of abortion should be left to the people to decide. The Constitution doesn't mention the word abortion. So I think that's what it's really all about. And if Roe v. Wade were overturned tomorrow, nobody would even notice, because the states are legislating their own laws about abortion, completely independent."
Republicans have continued to insist that Gillibrand is a highly vulnerable target, despite her overwhelming win in 2010 and her sizable war chest, but have struggled to recruit established candidates to oppose her.
Last month, Marc Cenedella, an internet entrepreneur who was in attendance at the dinner, bowed out of the race after some embarrassing revelations about a blog he maintained several years ago. Gillibrand's only other declared opponent, Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos, was also on hand, and drew applause from the crowd when he mentioned his commitment to spend as much as $5 million dollars of his own money on the race.
Maragos and Long will vie for the party's designation at the state convention on March 16. (Long was joined last night by the Republican operative Lynn Krogh, who helped marshal support for Rick Lazio at the convention in 2010.)
But regardless of who wins the nomination, Republicans will have an uphill battle to reclaim the Senate seat, in a state where they are heavily outnumbered by registered Democrats, and haven't won a statewide election since George Pataki in 2002. It could prove particularly difficult in a presidential year.
Speaking to reporters, Long made clear she was running against Gillibrand, and not against President Obama.
"I think she's pretty much a rubber stamp for a lot that he does, so that will certainly be an issue," she said. "But she's my opponent and not he."