Republican Party delegates selected former Yonkers Mayor John Spencer as their candidate for U.S. Senate, and Jeanine Pirro as their designee for attorney general, on day one of the state GOP Convention on Long Island Wednesday.
The two-day convention began today at Hofstra University with candidates vying for their place on the September primary ballot. Candidates need 51 percent of the vote to get the party nod, and 25 percent to get on the ballot.
Unlike the Democrats, who began their state convention in Buffalo
Tuesday, Republicans have no clear front runner in the races for governor or U.S. Senator.
Spencer captured 63 percent of the delegate vote, making him the Republican Party’s designated candidate to take on incumbent Senator Hillary Clinton, a Democrat.
Both candidates are badly trailing Clinton in the latest polls, but Spencer was optimistic about his chances.
“I ask all of you for your support so we can go out and work together to defeat Senator Clinton, who is not good for the state New York, [and] not good for the future of our nation” said Spencer. “I pledge to you a tireless campaign of debating all across this state, and I pledge to you a victory in November against Senator Clinton.”
The designee quickly went after his opponent and her political ambitions.
“Dick Morris gave me a good line that I’ll repeat here today, and that is you can ask any 10-year-old in the state of New York, ÎWhat does Mrs. Clinton want to do?’ and a 10-year-old would say, ÎShe wants to be president.’ She doesn't want to be a U.S. Senator. I desire to be a U.S. Senator for all the people of New York State,” said Spencer.
Early on, GOP leaders weren't interested in Spencer’s candidacy. They eventually signed on, as Spencer been running hard as a conservative, appealing to some Republicans.
The former mayor’s opponent, former Reagan administration official K.T. McFarland, won 36.5 of the vote, which means she will be on the primary ballot this fall. She promised a fierce fight throughout the summer.
McFarland got into the race late, and the party faithful hasn't been that enthusiastic. McFarland's campaign has gone on the attack, raising Spencer's infidelity and allegations of nepotism.
However, at the convention, she saved her criticism for Clinton.
“Mrs. Clinton may be far ahead in the polls today, but we've got a long way to go until Election Day, so I suggest she not start eyeing the White House china just yet,” said McFarland.
Earlier in the day, Republican candidate for attorney general Jeanine Pirro, who is running uncontested, received the GOP nod. The former Westchester County district attorney hopes to replace Democrat Eliot Spitzer, who has served as the state's attorney general for nearly eight years.
In accepting her party’s designation on L.I., Pirro talked about her 10 years as Westchester's top law enforcer.
"I am proud to have been the first woman county judge in the history of Westchester County. I am proud to have been the first female district attorney in the history of Westchester County. I am proud to have been the first woman president in the history of the New York State DA's Association. And I intend to be the first woman attorney general of the State of New York," she said.
Initially a candidate for U.S. Senate, Pirro switched races after a series of gaffes. She says that's behind her, and so is her husband Al's tax fraud conviction for which he did prison time. Al Pirro did not join his wife on stage when she won the nomination.
“It's not 1956 - it's 2006. I'm a strong, independent woman with a record that is unparalleled in this race. I have worked hard for 30 years. This race is about me,” said the candidate.
A Quinnipiac University poll released last week found Pirro could face an uphill battle. In head-to-head match-ups, Democratic designee for attorney general Andrew Cuomo beat Pirro by 16 percentage points.
Meanwhile, former State Assembly Minority Leader John Faso and former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld are fighting for the GOP's backing in the governor's race.
On Wednesday, Weld chose former state official Christopher Jacobs as his running mate. Jacobs has resigned as Governor George Pataki's secretary of state to devote his time to run for lieutenant governor.
Jacobs says his new running mate is the only candidate with the experience to lead New York.
Weld says he and Jacobs share one thing that makes them different from their opponents.
“Chris and I are lacking in one area, I must say. We're both strangers to the halls of the state capital,” said Weld. “We don't have that advantage of knowing the ins and outs of Albany, and we're not tied and bound to any special interests."
Weld won't know whether he's won his party's designation until Thursday. Polls show Faso slightly ahead among Republican voters.
Weld says, regardless of who the delegates pick, he has no intention of dropping out of the race.
Finally, the state's top Republican, George Pataki, took the podium to a rousing ovation as he made his last convention speech as governor. He thanked the crowd for their support and reminisced about what made him run back in 1994.
Pataki told the crowd that the failures of Democratic policies ensured victory 12 years ago, and it will ensure victory again come Election Day.
“If you look at how people run government, Democrats always know better than the people, and the government will always be telling and dictating to the people, including taking more of their money because the politicians can spend it better than the people can,” he said. “That's their philosophy - that's not ours. That's why we have won in this state, and that's why we're going to win in this state this November."
Before addressing the crowd at the convention, the governor spoke exclusively with NY1. Pataki says he expects the Republican nominee to go out and do the same leg work he did when he first ran for governor.
"The candidates have to do what I did, and that's go make the case to the voters and tell them why they should be the next governor and earn it themselves,” he said. “Nobody is going to part the waters or anoint a candidate. It's the hard work of winning an election that they have to go through.”
The governor has yet to officially endorse a candidate in either the gubernatorial or senatorial races.
NY1 will provide ongoing coverage of the state Democratic and Republican conventions this week, including special editions of "Inside City Hall" nightly at 7 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.
Convention Fallout: Spencer And McFarland Mix It Up!
Pataki Takes Final Bow Before Delegates At GOP Convention
Democrats Back Hillary Clinton's Quest For Second Senate Term
GOP Kicks Off State Convention On Long Island
Democrats Designate Spitzer For Governor, Cuomo For Attorney General
Surprises Expected When GOP Convention Kicks Off On L.I. Wednesday
Andrew Cuomo Designated As Democratic Attorney General Candidate
Democrats Present United Front On Eve Of State Convention
State Political Conventions Usually Short On Drama