By MICHAEL HILL
The Associated Press
ALBANY -- Republican U.S. Senate candidate Wendy Long knew it would be an uphill race.
She is a steadfast conservative running for the first time and in a reliably Democratic state. By the usual measures used to assess political races -- polls, money, name recognition -- Long is far behind incumbent Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.
With Election Day looming Nov. 6, the New York City lawyer spent the past week doing radio interviews and swinging through northern New York for events including a Meet the Republican Candidates Night in Ogdensburg. And, as she has been doing for months, she kept up attacks on the front-runner.
"I am very confident that we are going to start gaining momentum as people begin to focus on the race and they begin to look at her record, which frankly is appalling," Long said in an interview. "She has just not stood up for New York."
Long, 52, has noted she and Gillibrand are both mothers of young children who graduated from Dartmouth College and worked as lawyers. The similarities end there. The two women are on different ends of the political spectrum, and in different positions in the race.
Gillibrand reported 100 times more campaign cash than Long this summer. A Quinnipiac poll in September reported Gillibrand up by 37 points. That same poll found almost three-quarters of the voters didn't know enough about Long to form an opinion -- a phenomenon echoed on a recent sunny day when more than a dozen New Yorkers questioned by reporters in Albany and Buffalo said they never heard of Long.
"I have no idea who she is," said Bob Markham as he read a newspaper on a park bench by Albany City Hall. "The only thing I'm focusing on is the presidential election."
Long is a cable TV veteran and is media savvy, but she has not shown she can afford the sort of multimillion-dollar statewide ad campaign candidates rely on in contested races. Her June campaign filing showed $96,411 in campaign cash. A new filing is due Oct. 15.
Long served as chief counsel to the Judicial Confirmation Network, a conservative advocacy group, a role in which she argued against President Barack Obama's 2009 nomination of fellow New Yorker Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court. She previously clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
Earlier in her career, she was a press secretary for two Republican senators and worked for the anti-abortion group Americans United for Life. As a college student, she worked at the Dartmouth Review, a conservative newspaper run by students.
In Gillibrand, Long faces an opponent who has worked hard to cement her position since 2009, when she was the surprise appointment to take Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's old seat. The unknown congresswoman who represented a largely rural district was judged too unaccomplished, too right-leaning and too upstate.
Gillibrand shifted to the left on guns rights and some other issues, slowly built statewide support and easily won election in 2010 against a little-known former congressman to fill out the last two years of the term.
New York Republicans have for years argued that Gillibrand is vulnerable, but they were unable to lure a prominent name to challenge her in 2010 or this year. Though not well known, Long has the credentials and talent to excite the base, which became clear after she wowed a meeting of state Conservative Party leaders early this year.
"Immediately, the leaders up and down the state of New York were excited about her running," said Michael Long, the longtime chairman of the state Conservative Party. Long, who is not related to the candidate, became a key backer after their first meeting.
Long easily won a three-way primary in June in a race in which she promoted her opposition to any tax increases and to same-sex marriage and her support for gun rights. But the social conservatism Long highlighted plays poorly with a New York electorate in which there are almost twice as many Democrats as Republicans.
"The more you preach that message, the fewer votes you get," said political scientist Doug Muzzio of Baruch College. "So shut up or attack your opponent."
Long calls for cutting taxes, paring regulation and slashing spending to balance the budget. But her campaign has been notable for a steady stream of releases attacking Gillibrand for months on everything from not agreeing to more debates (they have one scheduled for Oct. 17) to a series of economic issues.
A prime target has been the senator's support for President Barack Obama's health care law, which includes a tax on medical-device makers. Long has cast the tax as a job killer and pounced when central New York manufacturer Welch Allyn cited the tax as one reason for the loss of about 45 local jobs.
"It's Senator Gillibrand's failed policies that are leading to job losses in these specific areas," Long said.
A super PAC debuted an ad in upstate markets this week echoing Long's attacks on Gillibrand.
Gillibrand has largely ignored Long's comments, though a spokesman for the senator's re-election campaign defended her record.
"Senator Gillibrand is focused entirely on her agenda of growing jobs and the economy, cutting middle class taxes and ensuring more manufacturers across the state are stamping products with 'Made in America' -- not hyper-partisan political attacks," spokesman Glen Caplin said in an email.
Gillibrand, who has raised more than $14 million this cycle, has started running upbeat ads around the state. They are expected to run through Election Day.