Gillibrand '88, Long '82 face off in NY Senate race

by Diana Ming | 7/2/12 10:00pm

Wendy Long '82 won New York's Republican Senate primary on June 26 and will now officially face incumbent Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand '88, D-N.Y., in the state's general election this November. The two-woman race for the junior Senate seat will mark only the seventh time in the nation's history and the first time in the state of New Yorkthat two female candidates have opposed each other in a Senate race.

Long, a Manhattan attorney, beat Rep. Bob Turner, R-N.Y., and Nassau County comptroller George Maragos in the state's GOP primary election that was notable for low voter turnout, according to the Associated Press. Long netted 51 percent of the vote, while Turner had 36 percent and Marajos 13 percent.

At this point in the campaign, Gillibrand remains the frontrunner, according to government professor Joseph Bafumi, who specializes in campaign and election research.

"The latest polls show that Gillibrand is well ahead in the race and is more favorable in the state," he said. "Right now it would be very difficult for someone to beat her."

Polls have shown Gillibrand leading Long in direct match-ups by more than 30 percent, according to the AP. In the most recent Siena Research Institute poll on June 12, Gillibrand had a 43-point lead over Long, collecting 65 percentage points compared to Long's 22 percent.

Bafumi said that Long's immediate goals must be to raise campaign money and build broader name recognition across the state.

"As an incumbent, Gillibrand will have the capacity to raise a lot of money," Bafumi said. "Long's fundraising records will be a good measure of her likelihood to be a threat in this race or not."

Long has around $112,397 in campaign funds, compared to Gillibrand's $10 million, according to the AP. The 2012 election will be Gillibrand's second campaign for Senate since she was appointed to replace Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2009. Gillibrand won in a special 2010 election to finish Clinton's term that will end this year.

"The fact that it is a presidential election year and that she won in 2010 when it was a strong year for Republicans means that she will probably coast through this [upcoming election]," Bafumi said.

Despite Gillibrand's leading position in the race, Bafumi said that Long demonstrated strong support among her conservative voter base at the Republican primary convention.

"It was maybe a little bit of a surprise that she beat an incumbent," he said.

However, Long may be challenged in the general election due to the heavily Democratic makeup of New York at large, where Democrats outnumber Republicans two to one.

The most important voter issues will largely mirror national concerns about the economy and the health care debate. Additionally, parochial issues such as the loss of manufacturing operations in upstate New York and social security and entitlement concerns among New York City's senior citizens and poorer populations, according to Bafumi.

Long has run as a strict conservative throughout the campaign and notably promoted gun rights and opposed same-sex marriage. Long also pledged to never raise the federal debt ceiling, the AP reported.

Gillibrand, who has been criticized for taking more liberal positions after her appointment to the Senate, pushed for the repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy and the 9/11 Health Care Bill.

Senior communications director of the Center for American Women and Politics Kathy Kleeman said she predicts that the race will have a unique because both candidates are female.

"The male versus female dynamic just disappears in this case," Kleeman said, pointing to the usual criticism that male candidates act threateningly when campaigning against female candidates

Since 1789, only two percent of members of Congress have been women, according the center's studies. In New York, the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate was Clinton in 2001.

Women have had a larger presence on the political scene in recent years, Kleeman said.

"Here we have a race with two very strong women," Kleeman said. "I got the chance to meet Long at an event in New York, and whether or not you agree with her politics, it is certain that she is not shy about communicating her visions. Gillibrand is certainly like that as well."

Additionally, the Long-Gillibrand face-off marks the only time in recent memory that two College graduates have directly competed in a Senate or congressional race.

"It's extremely exciting to see two Dartmouth alumni running for Senate in such a big state," Bafumi said.

Students also expressed a heightened interest in the election.

"It's really interesting that it's Dartmouth against Dartmouth," New York resident Mark Andriola '14 said of the election. "Here you have two Dartmouth graduates who were on campus during similar eras, yet have developed diametrically opposed viewpoints."

Anna Roberts '14, who is from New York City, said that the race has also caught her attention.

"I'm obviously proud as a New Yorker that we have two women vying for one of the top seats in the state, especially since both are from Dartmouth," she said. "I think that Gillibrand is very well-liked and it would be difficult for Long to win the race, but I'm excited to see what happens."