New York voters Tuesday overwhelmingly decided to send Sen. Charles E. Schumer back to Washington for a second term, as the Brooklyn Democrat rode a bulging bankroll and his name recognition to an easy victory.
With 99 percent of the precincts reporting, Schumer captured 71 percent. In 1988, the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, with 67 percent, won the largest plurality in a U.S. Senate race in New York.
Schumer's chief challenger, Assemblyman Howard Mills, an Orange County Republican, won 25 percent, while the Conservative Party candidate, Marilyn O'Grady, a Long Island ophthalmologist, got 3 percent of the vote.
"I am honored and humbled by the trust New Yorkers have put in me," Schumer said.
In large part, the race was over before it began in February, when GOP officials, led by Gov. George E. Pataki, plucked Mills from the obscurity of the Assembly to face Schumer. That angered leaders of the Conservative Party, whose backing Republicans covet in statewide races, and they tapped O'Grady to send a message to the GOP. Though Mills and party leaders vowed at the time that he would have enough money to get his message out, that never proved remotely true.
Schumer raised more than $26 million for the race, an amount he never came close to needing; Mills, by contrast, raised less than $600,000. By the end, Schumer spread more than $2.5 million to other Democratic causes across the nation and in New York. The donations can position Schumer for a leadership role among Democrats in the Senate and bolster a possible run for governor in two years.
"The speculation will start today about a potential Schumer run for governor in 2006. And this victory makes him the strongest Democrat in the state," said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic consultant.
Mills said he was "obviously mismatched" when it came to raising money compared with Schumer. He criticized Schumer's campaign, claiming: "He was very evasive. He wouldn't answer questions. The people deserve better."
By the end, two questions remained: Would Schumer try to use his Senate seat to run for governor? And what kind of government job would Mills get for agreeing to run against Schumer?
Sheinkopf said Schumer's success came from paying attention to the upstate vote, once a rarity for statewide Democrats. "The Republicans were smart not to put a real contender up against him," Sheinkopf said.