NEW YORK — Wendy Long, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, squared off late last month against her Democratic opponent, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, in their first and only debate before the Nov. 6 election.
The two well-credentialed candidates are polar opposites on abortion, religious freedom and marriage. Long is a Catholic convert and veteran activist on social and judicial issues.
"There could not be a more clear contrast between longtime pro-life leader Wendy Long and Emily’s List poster child Senator [Kirsten] Gillibrand," stated Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a nondenominational organization that raises funds for pro-life politicians, in an enthusiastic endorsement.
Yet Long and Gillibrand have several important things in common: The Democratic senator was raised Catholic, and both women received undergraduate degrees from Dartmouth College — and top ratings from the National Rifle Association.
But while Gillibrand has embraced party positions at odds with the teachings of her cradle faith, Long, a passionate convert and a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, looks for opportunities to articulate natural-law positions and defend religious liberty in the courts.
A graduate of Harvard Law School, Long has worked as a litigator and also chief counsel for the Judicial Crisis Network, an activist group that supports the nomination of Supreme Court justices and federal judges that embrace an "originalist" philosophy, adhering to the Founding Fathers’ understanding of constitutional safeguards.
The Senate, of course, holds the power to confirm or block the president’s nominees to the high court, and that power has led abortion-rights groups to argue that even candidates like Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., who supports abortion rights, cannot be trusted to toe the pro-abortion line when a slot opens up on the high court.
Long had hoped for a string of debates that would give her an extended forum to directly challenge Gillibrand’s voting record on economic issues, as well as her support for the federal contraception mandate and Obamacare.
Gillibrand is "one of the most ardent pro-abortion advocates in the U.S. Senate, and one of her big issues is pushing the HHS mandate, as well as same-sex ‘marriage,’" Long contended during an Oct. 11 telephone interview with the Register.
However, Long is in no position to demand additional debates: She is in a David-and-Goliath contest with an opponent who has reaped an estimated $15 million in campaign contributions from across the nation, as Democrats mobilize to sustain their control of the Senate in the November election.
The Oct. 17 debate focused on unemployment, regulation of Wall Street institutions, tax policy and solutions for shoring up social entitlements like Medicaid and Social Security. Long will advocate for reduced regulations and entitlement reforms.
"The America I have known and loved all my life is slipping away from us. I tell the voters of New York: This isn’t just an election; this is an emergency. We need to get focused on jobs," said Long.
Long admires the GOP vice-presidential candidate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, who faced off with his fellow Catholic, Vice President Joe Biden, in the Oct. 11 vice-presidential debate.
"Paul Ryan has been a responsible legislator and public servant, almost alone among members of Congress in his belief that we need to strengthen and save our social entitlements. Everyone else is just avoiding this issue because it doesn’t get them elected," she said.
Long is well aware that many Catholic voters — and some U.S. bishops — fear that Ryan’s budget-cutting proposals will hurt the poor. She believes essential programs can be protected, but also insists Catholics must grapple with the long-term consequences of the ballooning national debt.
In her view, the growth of "government has crowded out the role of many social institutions, including the Church, that have been a great force for good in public life."
Government social programs can never match the "love, attention, care and respect for human dignity that faith-based services offer," said Long, who believes that inner-city Catholic schools do more to advance social justice for the needy than most anti-poverty programs.
During the debate, Long criticized Gillibrand’s record of support for Obamacare and other policies that expand the role of government. But she can be counted on to speak out with equal fervor against the administration’s support for same-sex "marriage," abortion rights and the HHS mandate.
Gillibrand has adopted her party’s "war on women" mantra, framing moral opposition to the federal contraception mandate as an effort to block access to contraception. Long used the debate to dismantle that argument.
Gillibrand "claims [falsely] that the HHS mandate doesn’t trample on religious freedom and that the Church and Republicans are trying to ‘dictate to women what to do with their bodies,’" Long noted. "How does a religious employer’s decision not to offer health plans with abortion coverage dictate to anyone what to do with her own body?"
Added Long, "We don’t have a birth-control crisis in this country. We have a spending-control crisis."
Gillibrand and Long have something else in common — both are married, and both have two young children. But the Republican candidate notes with outrage that her opponent issued a 2012 Mother’s Day message "saying the best gift anyone could give their mother was to make a contribution to the pro-abortion group Emily’s List," an organization that raises funds for Democratic candidates who support abortion rights.
Media coverage of Gillibrand rarely notes her Catholic roots. But the New York senator, who was appointed in 2009 by then-Gov. David Paterson to fill the seat left vacant after Sen. Hillary Clinton was named secretary of state by President Obama, has cited her faith as an inspiration for her political agenda.
"I think faith transformed my interest in politics into a calling for service," Gillibrand said in a Vogue magazine profile.
She described her campaign to "repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," the federal policy that barred open homosexuals from military service, as evidence of her faith-inspired "calling for service."
Becoming a Catholic
Long, by contrast, embraces Catholic moral doctrine as the intellectual foundation for her commitment to oppose abortion rights and same-sex "marriage."
"I converted to Catholicism at age 35, after being raised as a Congregationalist in a New England Yankee family," she said.
Throughout much of college and her 20s, she was anti-Catholic, yet during that period she was strongly influenced by Catholic friends at Dartmouth and later at Harvard Law School, where she studied under Mary Ann Glendon, a leading Catholic public intellectual.
"Growing up in a small New Hampshire town, I didn’t understand Catholicism. The faith came into my life gradually; it was an intellectual journey that led to faith," she recalled.
Working in Washington, Long joined a Bible study group that included Catholics and Protestants.
"I was always arguing on the evangelical side. But, gradually, things being said on the other side crept into my consciousness. It slowly dawned on me that Catholic doctrine is true, and I saw the evidence of it everywhere."
Father Gerald Murray, the pastor of Holy Family Parish in Manhattan and a Dartmouth alumnus who first got to know Long in college, suggested that her story and policy positions challenge the notion that all strong, accomplished women embrace abortion rights and the HHS mandate.
"She represents the hidden force in American politics — conservative Christian women who are serious professional women and full-time moms," said Father Murray.
Peter Robinson, a former speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan, and the author of How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life, is another friend from Dartmouth who admires her "conviction, intelligence and sheer charm. She has presence. And the long odds leave her completely unfazed. When Mrs. Thatcher was getting started in politics, I imagine, she was a lot like Wendy."
Kate O’Beirne, the former Washington editor of National Review and the author of Women Who Make the World Worse: And How Their Radical Feminist Assault Is Ruining Our Schools, Families, Military and Sports, describes Long’s candidacy as a "refutation of feminist orthodoxy."
"The fundamental non-negotiable of the modern women’s movement is that all educated, sophisticated, self-respecting women must support abortion on demand," observed O’Beirne.
"Then along comes Wendy Long, an extremely accomplished and intelligent lawyer who makes the articulate pro-life case. Of course they want to ignore her."
For Long, the Church’s emphasis on human freedom and responsibility in the moral life of each person means that elected representatives and voters "can’t shy away from the truth."
"If we say we are Catholics, we must reverence human life," Long stressed. "We can never sanction the state to use its power to destroy human life."