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Gillibrand wins 2nd Senate term, defeating Farley

Win may intensify speculation about Gillibrand's 2020 presidential ambitions, even though she has pledged to serve out her term.

Newsday's Joye Brown talked about the Democrats taking over the State Senate and the United States House of Representatives.  (Credit: Newsday staff; News 12 Long Island; Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara; James Escher)

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who spent much of her re-election campaign stumping for other Democrats around the state and the country, won a second full term on Tuesday, soundly defeating Republican Chele Farley, a former financier from Manhattan who struggled to raise both funds and her profile.

The victory for the incumbent — the race was called immediately when polls closed at 9 p.m., and Gillibrand was claiming roughly 70 percent of the vote with nearly half of precincts reporting — may only intensify speculation about Gillibrand’s 2020 presidential ambitions, despite her pledge in a recent televised debate that she would serve all of her upcoming six-year term.

"We know this country is being taken in the wrong direction," Gillibrand said from the state Democratic Party celebration at the Sheraton Times Square, citing President Donald Trump's attacks on immigrants, the environment and the federal justice system. "But, tonight is different. Tonight we start to move forward again. Because we believe in right versus wrong, and we refuse to let what’s wrong win."

New York’s junior senator, who was first appointed to the seat in 2009, maintained a high profile throughout the fall. But on the trail — including stops in all 62 counties in the state, as well as in New Hampshire, Tennessee and Arizona — she set her sights more on Trump than on her opponent.

Gillibrand, 51, of Brunswick, spent relatively little of her campaign war chest in recent months. She ran no television ads for much of the campaign and had $10.6 million in cash on hand as of Oct. 17, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

Farley, also 51, raised $1.3 million over the course of her campaign and had less than $200,000 on hand, the filings show. The gap in name recognition was just as large, even in the last days of the race.

A Siena College Research Institute poll of likely voters, concluded on Nov. 1, had Gillibrand holding a 23 percentage point lead over Farley, with 86 percent of the respondents saying they didn’t know the challenger or had no opinion about her. Only 20 percent said the same of Gillibrand. Her favorable rating in the poll sat at 46 percent, one point higher than that of Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Farley’s campaign centered on Gillibrand’s national political presence and the argument that it deprived New Yorkers of a dedicated representative in Washington. Farley, a former private equity firm partner and state GOP fundraiser, also cited her party affiliation and negotiating background in arguing that she could help improve the new GOP tax law by bringing the state a higher cap on state and local tax deductions.

Gillibrand, a vocal backer of women’s rights who has shifted many of her positions leftward since her days as an upstate congresswoman, has cited her accomplishments, including pushing for the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy restricting openly gay military members and advocating for passage of the Zadroga Act, which enhanced benefits  for sickened 9/11 first responders.

She also has become a leading voice for survivors of sexual assault and for increasing the  number of women seeking elected office. Earlier this year, she went against many in her party  in being among the first to call for the resignation of then-Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) after he was accused of misconduct against several women.

With Lisa Colangelo

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