In the only scheduled debate between United States Senate candidates Chuck Schumer and Wendy Long, the two traded policy views in an hour that focused on national issues and the middle class.
The two candidates went back and forth on Sunday night at the Nott Memorial on the Union College campus in Schenectady, with Long framing the race as an opportunity to upend the status quo, and Schumer touting his record in Congress.
The latest Siena Research poll from earlier this month showed Schumer with a nearly 40-point advantage in the race.
“People are unhappy,” Long said after the debate. “I think they’re wanting change, wanting some different faces.”
Schumer, a Brooklyn native, is seeking his fourth term in the U.S. Senate. The 65-year-old was originally elected in 1998 after spending 18 years in the House of Representatives. If the Democratic Party wins enough seats in November’s election to regain control of the Senate, he could become the majority leader.
He’s running against Long, an attorney who previously ran as the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate against Kirsten Gillibrand in 2012, when she garnered just 26.4 percent of the vote. Long, 56, is seeking to become the first Republican to serve as a U.S. senator from New York since Schumer defeated Alfonse D’Amato in 1998.
Asked if she’d changed since her 2012 blowout defeat, Long said she believes she’s more conservative than she was in that race. She cited her belief in putting America first, something Donald Trump, whom Long supports, has also emphasized.
Debate topics ranged from state to national to international issues. Longer discussions took place on topics such as Wall Street regulation, campaign finance and health care.
Schumer was asked by moderators if he is “too close to Wall Street to help Main Street,” and responded by saying he has stood up to Wall Street firms when they threaten the interests of the middle class.
Long said she believes many of Schumer’s biggest donors are from Wall Street firms, calling him “bought and paid for” in an interview after the debate.
The possibility of Schumer becoming Senate majority leader was broached as well, and Schumer said he would work closely with “hopefully President Clinton.”
Schumer said he aligns with Clinton on most issues, but disputed that he would be a rubber stamp, saying he’d disagree if he thought she was wrong, such as on the Iran nuclear treaty.
“The worst thing that could happen in the next Congress, regardless of president, is four more years of gridlock,” he said during the debate. Schumer did not speak with reporters after the debate.
On a question about the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, Schumer said he stands by the legislation, which has insured more Americans and allowed young adults to stay on their parents’ plan after college. However, he pointed to areas that need improvement, such as lowering the cost of medication.
Long called the ACA a disaster, saying it’s too expensive.
The candidates had the opportunity to pose a question to their opponent during the debate. Schumer asked Long about her view on regulations on coal burning, consumer protections and unions.
Long responded by saying she doesn’t believe there should be “free-floating” agencies in the federal government, and said she’s not necessarily opposed to unions, but doesn’t support them when they put people out of work.
For her question, Long pointed again to Schumer’s large donations, and asked if he felt those big donors would expect something in return.
Schumer answered by saying he has worked to stand up to big businesses, specifically citing drug companies, when he feels they are in the wrong, regardless of donor status. He added that he’d like to repeal Citizens United, a Supreme Court decision that allows corporations to use money as political speech.
Long said she would’ve liked the debate to last longer, citing immigration and the Middle East as two areas she felt were shortchanged in the discussion. However, she said she’s optimistic she can improve on her performance in the 2012 race.
“We’re going to keep working hard for the next 10 days,” Long said after the debate. “This year is different than any other year. In 2012, there was not this anti-establishment sentiment we see now.”
Reach Gazette reporter Brett Samuels at 395-3113, [email protected] or @Brett_Samuels27 on Twitter.