NEW YORK – Republican Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro (search) officially launched her candidacy for the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, saying incumbent Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton (search) is using her position as a springboard for a White House bid.
"New York deserves a senator who has New York's interests at heart — not the divided loyalties of one seeking to satisfy the needs of people in Iowa, New Hampshire or Florida," Pirro said in a speech at The Waldorf-Astoria hotel in Manhattan. " Hillary Clinton has shortchanged New York; she hasn't delivered and she will find out that that the people of New York have not forgotten her empty promises."
Pirro, 53, said in May that she would forgo a fourth term as district attorney in favor of running for statewide office in 2006. On Monday she said she had decided against running for governor or attorney general and would take on Clinton.
The formal announcement of her candidacy on Wednesday kicked off a three-day statewide tour.
"I'm a New Yorker through and through," Pirro said in a backhanded slap at Clinton, who successfully overcame accusations of being a carpetbagger when she moved to New York in 2000 to run for the Senate.
The Elmira native, who is often seen on national television as a commentator on high-profile crimes, ticked off stands on a number of positions, including support for making President Bush's tax cuts permanent and backing the Patriot Act (search) "so we can better fight the war on terror."
She said she differed with Bush on the issue of stem cell research (search), calling the restrictions he imposed "wrong."
Also Wednesday, she was criticized by abortion rights supporters who said she was deserting past stances to win support from the Conservative Party. Long considered an abortion rights supporter, she said she opposes the procedure that critics call "partial-birth abortion" except to protect the life of the woman. The NARAL Pro-Choice America contended Wednesday that represents a "flip-flop" of her previous position.
Pirro demurred when asked by reporters about what possible role her husband, lawyer-lobbyist Albert Pirro (search), might have in the campaign.
While she was re-elected district attorney in 2001, he was serving 11 months in federal prison on a tax fraud conviction. In 1997, he was the target of a paternity suit, which he ultimately lost. In 1986, he refused to release information about his law practice and she had to withdraw as the GOP candidate for lieutenant governor.
"There's one person running for office here; I'm running against Hillary," she said. "I am certainly not an ingenue running for office ... I expect to be judged and I deserve to be judged based upon my record and my record alone."
At the start of her announcement, Pirro introduced her mother and daughter, but later said her husband did not attend because he was working. He is a major Republican fundraiser.
Pirro pledged during her speech "to run a campaign on the merits" and said she would not "stoop to negative character assassination of my opponent." She called on Clinton "and her surrogates" to do the same.
She appeared nervous during the brief speech to about two dozen supporters and a phalanx of reporters and photographers. At one point, she lost her place for about 30 seconds before an aide provided her with a missing page from the speech.
Later, at an announcement event on the steps of the state Capitol attended by about 100 people, Pirro's technical problems continued. About a minute into her speech, a reporter yelled out that the television and radio crews were getting no sound from the candidate's microphone. After about five minutes, Pirro restarted her speech from where she had left off.
"I'm still running for the United States Senate," she laughed as she began again.
Recent national polls have shown the former first lady as the leading contender for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, although Clinton has said she is completely focused on her re-election bid and is not thinking about a run for the White House.
A statewide poll released last week by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute had Clinton leading Pirro, 63 percent to 29 percent.
Also eyeing the GOP Senate nomination are Edward Cox, a Manhattan attorney who is a son-in-law of the late President Richard Nixon; former Yonkers Mayor John Spencer; and William Brenner, a little-known tax attorney from Sullivan County.