Wendy Long says running an uphill battle to unseat Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) was a fight she couldn't pass up after three decades as a conservative spokeswoman, lawyer and activist.
Long, 52, a former clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas and friend of radio host Laura Ingraham and author Dinesh D'Souza, told her hometown newspaper in Keene, N.H.: "It was kind of a crazy idea that just took off."
But in an interview last week about her first try at campaigning for an elective office, Long said she's serious about waging a battle of ideas.
"I got into this only because, as I've said around the state, I felt like this was not just an election, it was an emergency," said Long, who is on the Conservative and Republican lines.
"I think that my views are in line with New Yorkers on many of the most important things," she said, especially her call to lower tax rates.
Trailing in the polls
Recent polls have not been encouraging for Long. In surveys of likely voters released last week, Long trailed Gillibrand by 44 percentage points in a Marist Poll and 43 percentage points in a Siena Poll.
Worse for Long, Siena Poll's Steven Greenberg said 67 percent of those surveyed said they had not even heard of her.
"She never ran for office before. She starts with zero. Despite winning the Republican primary that very few Republicans participated in, she still remains unknown," he said. "Why? She has no money."
Long, who lives in Manhattan, defeated two others in the June GOP primary, and then began running. As of Oct. 17, she reported having raised $722,020 -- not enough, she said, to run TV ads.
Long has sunk nearly $57,000 of her own money into her campaign and owes consultants more than $250,000.
She said she relies on outside groups to help. Last week, the New York State Conservative Party spent $24,000 on robocalls. Super PAC National Horizons ran an ad weeks ago for her, funded by $500,000 from cosmetics heir Robert Lauder and $200,000 from Robert Mercer of Renaissance Technologies in East Setauket.
Gillibrand, with $15.5 million raised, has aired five ads.
Long has her own role models -- former Sens. Gordon Humphrey (R-N.H.) and William Armstrong (R-Colo.). She worked for each of them as a press secretary in the 1980s.
Both were hard-line social conservatives and fiscal hawks, leading members of the New Right, the precursor to today's bloc of tea party lawmakers.
Armstrong, president of Colorado Christian University in Lakewood, Colo., called Long "an idealist" and brilliant, as he recalled fighting his own party to get more spending cuts.
Yet while Armstrong played the role of obstructionist with filibusters and other moves, he used his personal touch to avoid alienating colleagues, according to CQ's Politics in America.
Long noted the parallels between the 1980s and today with fights over deficits, spending and taxes, and praised Armstrong for his work.
She said her approach to the other side as senator would be "having honest disagreement" and "a real battle of ideas."
Finding her voice
The seeds of her decision to run were planted at Dartmouth College where, Long said, "I found a strong political bent."
She said she arrived there in 1978 as a Republican and Protestant, but became a committed conservative and a Catholic.
The spark for that came from her friends, including D'Souza, who founded The Dartmouth Review, a provocative conservative journal that engaged in the culture wars of the 1980s.
D'Souza remains provocative: He made a film attacking Obama and recently was ousted as president of King's College in Brooklyn for getting engaged before he divorced his wife.
Long said she worked for the college newspaper before joining the Review as an editor -- and becoming part of an expanding network of high-profile and outspoken conservative activists that she's still involved in today.
When she left a job in the Senate, she worked for an anti-abortion group and earned a law degree at Northwestern Law School. She landed a clerkship with Thomas, one of the most conservative justices.
After practicing law, she helped found the Judicial Confirmation Network in the 2000s to battle with liberal groups and Democrats such as Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who opposed the nominations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.
More recently, at the newly rechristened Judicial Crisis Network, Long opposed the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the high court.
Hitting the home stretch
Exhausted and with just days to go, Long said, "I really took on an uphill battle fairly late in the game."
Several dear friends are also running as Republicans for Senate, but they started a lot earlier, she said.
They include Ted Cruz, a friend from a year she spent at Harvard Law, in Texas; Rep. Heather Wilson (R-Ariz.), a childhood friend from Keene, N.H., in Arizona; and Dartmouth friend John McGovern, in Vermont.
Asked whether she'll seek elected office again if she loses, Long said, "I certainly would hope and intend to keep fighting for, in whatever way I think is most helpful, for the things that I care about. But I don't know whether that would mean running for anything in the future."
EDUCATION Bachelor's degree from Dartmouth College; law degree from Northwestern University Law School
CAREER Spokeswoman for two U.S. senators; spokeswoman for Americans United for Life; partner in a Manhattan law firm; activist supporting conservative U.S. Supreme Court nominees
FAMILY Married with two children
Total campaign contributions $722,020
Total spent $614,798
Cash on hand $107,222
Source: Federal Election Commission, as of Oct. 17, 2012