Wendy Long is taking up New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand's challenge. “Senator Gillibrand has said she wants to see more women in politics,” Long said in her speech to the state GOP convention last week, responding to the Democratic incumbent. “I say let’s give her what she’s asking for.”
Long, a lawyer, wife, and mother of two, is hoping to challenge Gillibrand for her seat this November. But first, she’ll have to face two GOP opponents—Congressman Bob Turner, who won a surprising victory to replace disgraced Democrat Anthony Weiner last year, and Nassau County comptroller George Maragos—in a statewide primary on June 26. Long has an edge in the primary race, emerging from the state GOP convention with support from 47 percent of the delegates. (Turner and Maragos won just enough support to earn a spot on the primary ballot.) And on Monday, Long won the nomination of New York’s influential Conservative party, which often (but not always) endorses Republican candidates as well.
Long says she has advantages that her Republican opponents don't have against Gillibrand in the general election, arguing that their similar backgrounds and profiles—she’s 51, Gillibrand’s 45—mean the November election can remain focused on the issues. “We both grew up in small towns. We’re kind of country girls. We both went to Dartmouth College. We both went to law school. We both practiced with big New York City firms. We both have two young children. We both have blonde hair,” she says. “But beyond that, we are completely different.”
Gillibrand, Long says, abandoned the moderate record she had as a member of the House of Representatives after she was appointed to the Senate in 2009 to replace Hillary Clinton. National Journal ranked Gillibrand as tied for the “most liberal” senator in 2011.
“She’s one of only seven, for example, who voted to continue federal funding for ACORN,” Long says. “Her record on jobs and the economy and the Obama stimulus and voting for taxpayer rip-offs like Solyndra, voting for Obamacare--I mean, she’s got a really bad record.”
Long, a New Hampshire native who's lived in New York for 14 years, says Gillibrand’s support for the Dodd-Frank financial regulation is proof the junior senator is out of step with the state of New York.
“New York City is the financial capital of the world. The Dodd-Frank Act, I think, is going to change that,” Long says. “It’s going to send jobs to London and Geneva and Hong Kong and Sydney instead of keeping New York the financial center of the world. She was for Dodd-Frank, but now she’s beginning to get a little bit nervous about it, so she sends out a letter sort of pussyfooting around about the Volcker rule and trying to make noises going both ways. She’s just trying to keep herself in office. It’s not leadership.”
What Long hopes to offer as an alternative to Gillibrand’s liberal turn is an unabashedly conservative view on job creation and the role of government. “The fundamental difference that we have is, she and liberals like her think that the government can create jobs, and it's private businesses and people who create jobs,” she says. “She thinks you can create jobs by bigger government, more taxes, more federal spending, and that goes for everything form Obamacare to energy to stimulus.”
A law graduate of Northwestern (she also attended Harvard), Long clerked for Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court after clerking on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. She practiced law at Kirkland and Ellis and later founded the Judicial Confirmation Network (now called the Judicial Crisis Network), advocating for the confirmation of federal judges and justices like John Roberts and Samuel Alito. It’s no surprise, therefore, that Long is interested in bringing her interest and expertise on the judiciary into the Senate.
“We are in desperate need of a return to limited, constitutional government,” Long, a political novice, says about her decision to get in the race. She was encouraged to run by her Harvard law professor and mentor Mary Ann Glendon. Glendon’s recent book The Forum and the Tower, about the intersection between scholarship and politics, was a “big inspiration.”
Long has big obstacles in her path against Gillibrand, not least of which is New York’s deep blue voting pattern. Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly 3 million, and New Yorkers haven’t elected a Republican to the Senate since Al D’Amato in 1992. In 2010, Gillibrand cruised to victory in a special election to retain her seat, defeating an underfunded, underwhelming Republican candidate by 28 points in an otherwise banner year for the GOP. In 2012, with the money of the Democratic party behind her and Barack Obama at the top of the ticket (Obama beat John McCain in New York by 27 percent in 2008), Gillibrand won’t be easy to topple.
But Long hopes that by casting herself as an independent conservative, she'll can appeal to New York voters. In her state GOP convention speech, Long listed off the names of Senate giants—Robert Kennedy, James Buckley, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Hillary Clinton, and D’Amato—of whom New York should be proud.
“With so many serious issues and responsibilities before the United States Senate,” Long said. “I think New York needs an independent senator who thinks for herself, not someone who just rubberstamps the Obama agenda or checks with Chuck Schumer and says, ‘Me too.’”