12:45 pm Oct. 18, 20121
Last night, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Wendy Long gave conservatives the debate they've wanted for years.
Long, a Manhattan attorney and first-time candidate, pressed the incumbent Senator Kirsten Gillibrand on all the supposed weaknesses that have irked Republicans (and some Democrats, initially) since Gillibrand was elevated to the U.S. Senate in January of 2009.
Despite her high poll numbers, Republicans continue to insist Gillibrand is "vulnerable," and last night, for their lone debate in Saratoga Springs, Long tried to prove the point, before Gillibrand locks up a six-year term that will officially entrench her as a tough-to-beat incumbent.
Long, a former Senate press secretary and Supreme Court clerk, seemed comfortable on the stage in her debate debut, challenging Gillibrand at every opportunity, even drawing some boos from the crowd for interrupting with criticisms, as she lobbed some new attacks and repeated some longstanding ones.
Long questioned Gillibrand's shift on gun rights, from an upstate congresswoman who received an "A" rating from NRA and said she kept guns under her bed, to a champion of gun control after her promotion (by then-governor David Paterson) to the Senate. Long said she'd "like to know how in the world she could do this 180-degree flip," and, needling the senator, added that it's "a very bad idea to keep them under the bed."
Gillibrand explained the shift, like she has in the past, by saying her "values have never changed," but that there are "serious issues" of gang and gun violence across New York.
Long also pressed Gillibrand on Benghazi, federal spending and fracking, which the senator said needs more investigation before it's approved.
Long also tried a line of attack she's been pushing more recently, that the real "war on women" is not at the federal level but in the state Assembly, and she prodded Gillibrand to join her in calling for the resignation of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver for his role in handling the sexual harassment allegations against Vito Lopez.
“Vito Lopez should have paid those fines himself,” Gillibrand replied, adding, “taxpayer money should not have been used.” She stopped short of issuing the resignation call, and, when Long returned to the issue after an unrelated question, the moderators eventually steered Long away from it.
Long was the aggressive female champion that her backers hoped she would be, pointing out that she too is a woman who cares about women's issues, but her focus on Gillibrand's record was distracted by her own conservative positions on taxes and abortion, with Long defending her position that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided and abortion should be left to the states.
The senator has mostly ignored Long during the campaign, and she did her best to ignore her last night, even as they stood a few feet away. Gillibrand referred to her as "my opponent" and rarely addressed her directly, asking the moderators at a couple of points whether she should respond to Long's questioning.
In the end, nothing much happened; Gillibrand committed no errors that would allow Long to overcome a deep disadvantage in fund-raising and the polls.
A lightning round revealed that neither woman had read 50 Shades of Gray, and that both would like to be Senate majority leader. Gillibrand's margin of victory—if not her sometimes awkward performance last night—isn't likely to become an impediment to her future plans.
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