The 2006 election was a tough one for the New York Republicans: John Faso, who never had much of a shot, and Jeanine Pirro and Christopher Callaghan, each of whom enjoyed a brief moment of hope, were wiped out by a Democratic tidal wave.
But perhaps no one better represents the poster child for beleaguered-Republican losses more than the candidate for U.S. Senator, John Spencer, whose campaign seemed to have run off the rails before it even started.
Even if Mr. Spencer, the former mayor of Yonkers, never really had a shot at unseating Hillary Clinton, he at least had the hope that he could inconvenience her on her way to a widely anticipated Presidential run in 2008.
Instead, Senator Clinton has left the campaign with her bright, shiny image intact—improved, actually—while barely deigning to acknowledge the existence of any opposition whatsoever.
Mr. Spencer spent Election Day upstate. Four hours before polls closed, he was standing in the ballroom at the Crowne Plaza in Albany—passing the time, essentially, until his concession speech. For dinner, he was going to treat a “few loyal campaign workers” to steak.
In a phone interview just hours before the polls closed, Mr. Spencer, 59, blamed his bruising and mean-spirited primary with K.T. McFarland earlier this year for the unraveling of his candidacy.
“The primary was the death knell to Republicans in the state,” he said. “It was so beneficial to Senator Clinton—it gave her the whole summer off, and it kept my whole campaign in neutral gear. It put me in the fourth quarter of a football game down by four touchdowns. Then we struggled along the way. We did very well in the debates, but how many people saw the debates?”
Perhaps more than anything, he said, the primary drained crucial money and resources away from him by signaling to interested outsiders that the New York race was a bad investment.
“What unraveled in the campaign, if you will, is, if you throw in the fact that I have that primary, and then consider what happened around the country—and listen, I’m not complaining about lack of support from Washington, and they had to protect some incumbents, like Rick Santorum, George Allen and then in Ohio, and they made strategic moves that excluded New York—because, listen, we had a primary going on,” he explained. “So they made that decision. Do I wish they invested money in my campaign? Sure. But they look at New York as just a liberal state, which I don’t feel is the case.”
His campaign, in any event, was entirely missing the river of anti-Hillary support that flooded the campaign of Representative Rick Lazio in 2000.
“That’s a big impact,” he said of the poor fund-raising. “Who are donors supposed to give to in June and July and August? When you have seven weeks left and Hillary has $40 million and the liberal media is bombing away, saying that the election is over—then the election is over before it even begins.”
Of course, Mr. Spencer—a blunt-talking, politically incorrect Vietnam veteran—didn’t always help his own cause. In 2005, he was quoted as saying that Jeanine Pirro had a “Chinaman’s chance” of winning a Senate race. And in the closing weeks of this election, the Daily News reported a conversation in which Mr. Spencer said that Mrs. Clinton had “work” done to improve her appearance.
To Mr. Spencer, the blame lies with the media.
“The media is so biased toward liberals, it’s just, it’s just—empirical data,” he said. “That doesn’t help, when incumbents get free rides and the public isn’t informed.”
In an election year that might represent a great awakening for Republicans overall, Mr. Spencer said that this year’s election—and the state G.O.P.’s failures—should be a moment of reflection for the party.
“Republicanism is going through transition,” he said. “We’ve had 12 years with Governor Pataki, and now this is a transitional period we’re going through. If there are all sorts of sweeps, it’s going to give people a moment to pause and reflect. We’ll have to rebuild.”
And even after his heavy defeat in the Senate race, Mr. Spencer said that he hoped to be a part of that rebuilding program. In a capacity yet to be determined.
“Over the next few days, I’ll think of my next step,” he said. “I’m not going away, I can say that. I have a desire to serve the public, and I’m concerned with everything that happens in my home state.”
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