Spencer and McFarland May Tussle In Bid To Take On Senator Clinton
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HEMPSTEAD – The divided New York State Republican Party is headed for a contentious primary between a staunch conservative and social moderate in the race to take on Senator Clinton, who is widely viewed as a shoo-in for re-election because of her name recognition and overflowing campaign war chest.
The delegates who filled the basketball arena at Hofstra University for the party convention yesterday split their votes, giving both John Spencer and Kathleen Trioa McFarland more than the 25% of votes needed to get their names on the primary ballot without going through the costly petitioning process.
Mr. Spencer, a former mayor of Yonkers and the more conservative, won 63.4% of the vote and the official party designation, while Ms. McFarland, a Reagan-era Pentagon speechwriter turned stayed-at-home mother, won 36.5%.
The vote was viewed as a victory for Ms. McFarland and a blow to the Republican majority leader in the state Senate, Joseph Bruno, and the chairman of the state party, Stephen Minarik. Sources said Governor Pataki made a last-ditch attempt yesterday to unite the party behind Mr. Spencer, 59, who urged his opponent to drop her bid. He said the party needs to get behind one candidate to take on Mrs. Clinton. The race is expected to be fought in a fishbowl, with the nation looking in as rumors swirl about whether Mrs. Clinton is going to run for president in 2008.
“If a primary carries forward, it’s going to be beneficial to Senator Clinton and Senator Clinton only,” Mr. Spencer, who also has the Conservative Party backing, said. “I’ve secured the Republican nomination by a comfortable margin. We as Republicans have a challenge to bring the debate to the voters of New York, and the whole nation is watching.”
Political analysts have long suspected that the convention would publicly magnify the party’s splintered factions and evolve into a tug-of-war for the direction of the party, with some tacking to left and others to the right.
The sparsely attended event stood in stark contrast to the state Democratic Convention, which wrapped up in Buffalo yesterday. Delegates there were enthusiastically behind the state attorney general, Eliot Spitzer, in his bid for governor and gave Mrs. Clinton, who appeared with President Clinton, a raucous greeting. Mr. Spitzer’s long-shot challenger, Thomas Suozzi, who has painted himself as an outsider, boycotted the event.
Yesterday, Ms. McFarland dismissed Mr. Spencer’s call to drop out. Instead, she touted the amount of support she mustered in the 10 weeks since she entered the race.
“During the next 20 weeks I will challenge Ms. Clinton one issue at a time, woman to woman,” Ms. McFarland told the delegates. “I know some are secretly hoping for a cat fight.”
She said that would not happen: “It is possible for two articulate women, who have very different ideas about the role and size and cost of government to debate the great issues of the day.”
Mr. Bruno acknowledged the party’s floundering public perception, but said the state GOP was not in a “civil war.”
He also denied speculation that he may lose his four-person majority in the senate.
Early yesterday as GOP staffers milled through the arena, sources said Mr. Pataki had pulled aside one of his allies, the chairman of Manhattan’s Republican Committee, and asked him to flip his allegiance to Mr. Spencer from Ms. McFarland. The chairman, James Ortenzio, later denied it happened. He said he had a conversation with Mr. Pataki about the race, but the governor was not trying to sway him. Manhattan is Ms. McFarland’s home county.
The only statewide candidate yesterday to have the full backing of the Republican Party was a former Westchester district attorney, Jeannine Pirro, who was nominated to run for attorney general. While Andrew Cuomo was named the official Democratic nominee in that race, several other candidates, including Mark Green, who lost the 2000 mayoral race, are planning to challenge him in a primary.
The delegates on Long Island yesterday had mixed views on what a primary would mean for the race to unseat Mrs. Clinton. Some said it would “excite” the party’s base, while others said it would detract from the GOP chances to even make a dent in the senator’s strong foothold. Public opinion polls say Mrs. Clinton would trounce any challenger.