A decade ago, Republican attorney Wendy Long and New York’s Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer battled each other in the public debate over President George W. Bush’s conservative nominees to the Supreme Court.
Now, they are engaged in another clash: Long is running as an outsider and Donald Trump supporter against Schumer, a Washington insider and Hillary Clinton ally, as he seeks a fourth term.
The Senate race in New York this year has been overshadowed by an unusual presidential contest and conducted under the radar by a challenger with few resources and an incumbent trying to glide to re-election almost without notice.
Yet Long and Schumer offer New York voters a clear choice in ideology, politics and personal styles, a difference that will be on display when they meet in person for the first time at their only debate at Union College in Schenectady, to be aired at 8 p.m. Sunday on News 12 Long Island.
For Schumer, the stakes in this election could not be higher. He could become Senate majority leader if he wins and Democrats take control of the Senate — a capstone to a four-decade career as an elected official.
For Long, a victory would be momentous, an unexpected shake-up of what she calls a corrupt and self-serving professional political class that should be swept away to return to the original concept of a citizen legislature.
Polls show Schumer with a substantial lead over Long, who has little name recognition.
The Oct. 19 Siena Poll found three of every four likely New York voters don’t recognize or have an opinion of her, though nine out of 10 are familiar with Schumer. In that poll, Schumer led Long by 66 percent to 27 percent.
Joining Long in long-shot bids to defeat Schumer in the Nov. 8 election are Libertarian Party candidate Alex Merced and Green Party candidate Robin Laverne Wilson.
During October, Long has staged Facebook Live town halls each Sunday, a low-cost way to reach voters that primarily has drawn supporters but also undecided viewers.
“As an independent voter, why should I vote for you instead of Schumer?” Tom Narvesen of Wappingers Falls asked last Sunday.
Long replied that this election is all about “the people versus the establishment.” She said Schumer exemplifies that establishment, which “lives in this pay-for-play world where they take huge campaign donations and then go on do the bidding of their donors.”
Long, 56, has worked as a law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, as an aide to two U.S. senators and as a Manhattan attorney. She has long been an ideological conservative but after losing her 2012 challenge to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Long has become a populist supporting Trump.
Trump is “not a politician, and most people find it refreshing,” Long said in a telephone interview. For the establishment, she said, “He’s too honest, he’s too frank, he’s too unvarnished.”
Long said her top issues are “jobs, immigration and national security, and guns.” She backs Trump’s vow to boost economic growth to 4 percent and his call for a border wall with Mexico and limits on Syrian refugees.
Long has issued a list of specific proposals that include scrapping the Affordable Care Act, Common Core, the U.S. Education Department, business regulations and the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement. She also backs term limits on members of Congress.
“She is out there basically fighting a good fight. Obviously, with someone like Chuck Schumer, it’s a tough fight,” said New York State GOP chairman Ed Cox.
Long operates on a shoestring budget. She reported she has raised $457,000 (including $30,200 she loaned her campaign) and has spent $366,000. She campaigns mostly at Republican meetings and with emails and social media.
Most commuters at Penn Station quickly recognized Schumer as he spoke with other officials two weeks ago at a news conference about progress on a transit project.
Schumer never mentioned he’s running for re-election and his aides say he isn’t formally campaigning.
“What I’ve done is done my job for New York State and the politics have taken care of themselves,” Schumer said. “That’s the best way to win re-election.”
Still, his campaign finance filings show he has spent $2.3 million on ads and other media since June.
At age 65, Schumer, a Democratic deal maker whose positions range from liberal to moderate, has never lost a race. He first won a seat in the New York State Assembly at age 23 in 1974, moved to the U.S. House in 1980 and to the Senate in 1998.
Over the years he has built an expansive network in Washington and on Wall Street, and prides himself on his efforts to maintain New York as the world’s financial capital.
For this election, Schumer has raised $24 million — $9 million from donors in securities and investment, law firms, real estate, insurance and finance, according to the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political money.
In response to Long’s charges that Schumer has engaged in pay to play, his spokesman Matt House said, “Schumer has consistently sided with middle class families against the special interests.”
Asked if he’s an insider, Schumer said, “No, I feel like I’m a New Yorker.”
Schumer said he wants another term to “get middle-class incomes moving again . . . that’s going to be my focus, like a laser.”
In his current term, Schumer led Senate passage of a comprehensive immigration bill and orchestrated approval of $60 billion in federal funds for recovery after superstorm Sandy in 2012. He also broke with President Barack Obama to oppose the Iran nuclear deal.
Looking ahead, Schumer has spent $6.2 million of his campaign funds to help elect Democrats to the Senate, a bid that could help him become Senate Majority Leader.
Schumer declined to detail most of his plans if re-elected. But he said, “We need a lot of infrastructure building” and “international tax reform.”
Depending on its final version, that reform could raise $250 billion or more for infrastructure costs by lowering tax rates so corporations would bring home some of the $2 trillion in profits stowed overseas to avoid paying U.S. taxes.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has called a version of that proposal a “giant wet kiss for the tax dodgers.” But Senate Republicans and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said they’re open to it.
“We’ve got to get things done and if it means we have to meet the other side part of the way, we’ll do it,” Schumer said.
As they run for the Senate, Long and Schumer are still battling over the future of the Supreme Court.
Long’s side won in 2005 and 2006 when Bush’s nominees were confirmed, solidifying the court’s conservative majority.
But Justice Antonin Scalia’s death this year left an evenly split court with a vacancy the Senate Republican majority refuses to fill.
Schumer said the Senate should confirm President Barack Obama’s “mainstream” candidate, Judge Merrick Garland.
Long warned that Garland would tilt the court left, endangering the Second Amendment and religious freedom. “I just can’t overstate how huge an issue this is,” she said.
Meanwhile, Merced and Wilson said as they drive around the state to campaign, they’ve never run into Long or Schumer.
Merced, the Libertarian candidate, said he’s for ending U.S. policies forcing regime change in other countries, scrapping the drug war and simplifying taxes with a 20 percent flat rate.
Wilson, the Green candidate, proposes to close the Indian Point nuclear plant in Buchanan, New York, stop the Spectra AIM pipeline and make it easier to use solar and wind power. She said she was arrested protesting the exclusion of third party candidates at the Oct. 4 Hofstra debate.
Merced said, “We’re the ones who seem to be most actively campaigning.”