Pretty interesting challenger..IF..she gets the backing.
March 3, 2006
Clinton Challenger Pulled From Reagan-Era Hat
By PATRICK HEALY
It was supposed to be a marquee Republican campaign of the 2006 elections — a fusillade-style effort to defeat Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, which, even if it did not succeed, would excite donors nationally, raise millions for the party and perhaps weaken Mrs. Clinton before the 2008 presidential race.
Instead, to the chagrin of Republicans in New York and Washington, the party has not recovered from the December implosion of Jeanine F. Pirro's campaign against Mrs. Clinton. Republicans have been desperate for a credible challenger, while party leaders in Washington have tried to fill the vacuum by attacking Mrs. Clinton as "angry" and "brittle" — criticism they wish was coming from the campaign trail in New York.
To put it nicely, the Republican game plan is nowhere after a year of strategizing and overtures to at least six potential challengers. One of those challengers even calls the selection process "a Keystone Kops operation," and the only Republican now running, John Spencer, denounces "party elitists" who are against him.
Just weeks ago, Mr. Spencer looked poised to be the challenger, with a record of accomplishment as a former mayor of Yonkers. But with a caustic manner and a history of marital infidelity, Mr. Spencer may foil the party's drive for female voters and match up badly against Mrs. Clinton, some Republicans say.
Those Republican critics are now coalescing around a late entry: Kathleen Troia McFarland, 54, a protégée of Henry A. Kissinger who has not been in public service since working as a Pentagon spokeswoman under President Ronald Reagan. Yet Ms. McFarland, known as K. T., is pretty green: She has been a stay-at-home mother since 1985, and was drawn to the Senate race only because she already believed she was going to lose her bid for a Congressional seat on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
In an interview this week, Ms. McFarland said for the first time that she would challenge Mrs. Clinton and run on a platform of national security and military issues, given her background. She also said she is forswearing mudslinging, saying her party erred by calling Mrs. Clinton angry.
At the same time, both she and her advisers said the Senate battle provided a crucial chance before the presidential election to test Mrs. Clinton and expose what they see as her liberal voting record.
"Either we bog down Hillary Clinton in 2006, in New York, or we give Hillary a free pass, let her build up chips around the country by helping other candidates, and walk out of New York with a big win and become unstoppable for 2008," said Ed Rollins, the Reagan and Perot political adviser, who is helping run Ms. McFarland's nascent bid. "Republicans have to get serious about a challenger to Hillary right now."
Republican strategists in Washington say the White House political team also wants a strong challenger for Mrs. Clinton, yet is focusing for now on winnable races that would help preserve Republican majorities in the House and Senate.
"Karl would love to see Hillary defeated, but is that the best use of time and money?" said one strategist who described a conversation with Karl Rove, President Bush's political adviser, and was granted anonymity in exchange for recounting a private conservation. "It doesn't help matters that New York Republicans can't figure out who to run against Senator Clinton."
In recruiting Ms. McFarland, Republicans are to some extent reaching back to their original theory that the best challenger to Mrs. Clinton is another tough, telegenic woman who supports abortion rights and may keep some female votes in play.
"The gender piece is a key piece to a victory this year, but also key to the future of our Republican Party in New York," said Robert Davis, the Erie County Republican leader, who, along with James Ortenzio, a party leader in Manhattan, are prominent backers of her bid.
Ms. Pirro was supposed to fit that gender profile, and the state party so favored her that a respected Republican, Edward F. Cox, a lawyer and son-in-law of President Richard M. Nixon, bowed out of the race last fall. But Ms. Pirro's expertise as a former Westchester County district attorney did not seem to fit with the current Senate debates on taxes, Social Security, or Iraq, and her fund-raising foundered nationally, in part because a lack of preparation led to some widely publicized gaffes.
Perhaps reflecting her inexperience in the political world, Ms. McFarland declined to talk at length about issues, saying she was still studying the details. She described herself first as a "moderate Republican" and then as a "Reagan Republican." She refused to say how she would have voted on the Iraq war, but added that she believed more American troops should have been deployed.
She said her focus would be fighting terrorism and strengthening national security, and cast her rationale for running in strong pro-family terms.
"The war on terror is not going to be easy, and in a lot of ways, it's much more difficult than the cold war," Ms. McFarland said. "It's not a time to play politics, to play gotcha, to only talk to Republicans or to Democrats. It's a time to say, what do we agree on? What common ground can we find?"
"My objective in running for office is I want to keep my children and my grandchildren as safe as I can," said Ms. McFarland, who has five children and three grandchildren. "I have a husband whose office is above Grand Central Station. If we have a terrorist attack on the subway, that's where they go. I have a daughter who's in the Naval Academy. She's someone who would be sent overseas with the first wave. If the United States has policies that are shortsighted or irresponsible, she bears the brunt."
No matter who the challenger is, Mrs. Clinton is in formidable shape as a senator with high approval ratings, a widely respected record, and celebrity status in a Democratic-leaning state after eight years as the first lady. Independent polls show her to be remarkably popular in New York, with favorability ratings in the 60 percent range. They have also shown that the attacks on her by Washington Republicans are actually increasing her popularity.
"The Republican attacks on Senator Clinton have backfired," said Mark Penn, her pollster. "It is the Republicans who looked partisan as they continue to sink in the polls."
While Mrs. Clinton already has $17 million to spend on the race, Ms. McFarland has raised about $600,000 for her Congressional bid, though she and her husband, Alan, an investment banker, are wealthy. Mr. Rollins said she would be more successful than Ms. Pirro with Republican donors nationwide because of her history with President Reagan and her work on military issues, such as being an author of his famous "Star Wars" speech.
"She has the stature and gravitas that Republicans will embrace," Mr. Rollins said. "The former mayor of Yonkers is not necessarily going to be viewed as an impressive candidate by major figures in the party."
Mr. Spencer, who has been running since last spring, dismissed Ms. McFarland in an interview as "a liberal Manhattan Republican elitist" and said she was too late because he had won support from Republicans and the Conservative Party's executive committee. The full Conservative Party will pick its candidate in May; every Republican who has won statewide since 1974 has had its endorsement.
Under Mr. Spencer, crime rates and local taxes fell in Yonkers, and new schools and waterfront projects were built. Yet he had controversy: As mayor, while married, he fathered two children with his chief of staff. After years of questions, he publicly acknowledged the relationship, divorced his wife and married his former aide.
For Stephen J. Minarik III, the state Republican chairman who recruited Ms. Pirro and is now helping Mr. Spencer, it has been a long year of strategizing that he would like to conclude without a Republican primary battle. He said the door was not closed on Ms. McFarland — who just met yesterday with Joseph L. Bruno, the Senate majority leader — but it was very late to start a candidacy.
"We really have to turn our sights onto Hillary Clinton," Mr. Minarik said, "and stop her before she can run for president."