NEW YORK – Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton beat back a longshot anti-war challenger in the Democratic primary Tuesday, while former Yonkers Mayor John Spencer defeated Reagan-era Pentagon official Kathleen Troia "KT" McFarland to win the Republican nomination.
Clinton soundly defeated labor organizer Jonathan Tasini, who challenged Clinton over her 2002 vote authorizing the Iraq war. With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Clinton was leading by a margin of 83-17 percent.
Clinton was in Washington Tuesday night and was hosting no election night festivities. In an e-mail statement, she said she was "honored and deeply gratified" by her victory.
"Six years ago, I asked New Yorkers to take a chance on me, and they responded by giving me the opportunity to represent our great state in the United States Senate," Clinton wrote. "I've worked hard to deserve your confidence, and I will continue to work hard on behalf of the issues and values we share."
On the GOP side, Spencer led McFarland by a margin of 60-40 percent with 98 percent of precincts reporting. The two waged a bitter and often strange primary battle dominated by revelations about each candidate's personal life. Polls showed GOP voters knew little about either candidate.
McFarland, a self-described moderate and abortion rights supporter, conceded defeat at a Manhattan club. In a speech to supporters, she warned New York Republicans were in danger of losing their way.
"We are a party struggling to define ourselves," McFarland said. "Oftentimes, we have strayed from our fundamental principles of lower taxes and less government and catered to special interest to win their political and even their financial support."
Spencer faces a decidedly uphill battle against Clinton, a likely 2008 presidential contender who has raised over $44 million for her campaign.
With 60 days until the general election, Spencer begins with little money and name recognition and a political profile that is much more conservative than most New York voters.
Spencer opposes legal abortion and favors strict controls on immigration. A strong supporter of President Bush and the Iraq war, Spencer has criticized Clinton for "politicizing" the war on terror.
In an interview, Spencer said he looked forward to campaigning directly against Clinton and said independents and moderate Democrats would be persuaded by his message.
"She's been weak on the war on terror, and bad for the economy of the state of New York," Spencer said. "She's a pro-tax, big government liberal, and I'm a commonsense conservative."
On the Democratic side, Tasini was unable capture the anti-war momentum that fueled Ned Lamont's upset victory over incumbent Democrat Joe Lieberman in a Connecticut primary last month. Like Lieberman, Clinton voted in favor of the Iraq war and has not called for a date-certain troop withdrawal. But Clinton has openly criticized the administration's conduct of the war and called for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to resign.
While Lamont was able to spend $4 million of his own money to win the primary, Tasini raised just $120,000.
In an interview, Tasini said he was happy with his race but criticized the role that money and so-called "horse race" press coverage played in the election.
"This primary is such a great example of the corruption of money and the pathetic role of the media in politics," Tasini said. "If I were a multimillionaire, I would have won this race."
Tasini was less successfull than an unknown Manhattan physician — Dr. Mark McMahon — who challenged Clinton in the 2000 Democratic primary and got 18 percent of the vote.