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McFarland banks on Reagan legacy in campaign for Senate

Kathleen Troia McFarland is running for the Senate against Hillary Rodham Clinton this year, but wants the big name in the race to be Ronald Wilson Reagan.

In her first Buffalo interview since officially announcing her candidacy, the Republican, a former Reagan administration official, said she wants to emulate the 40th president on many levels as she launches an underdog effort against the incumbent Democrat. Reagan won New York in 1984, she noted, and says she sees no reason why his philosophy can't pull it off again.

"He believed in lower taxes, less government and a strong national defense -- to which I would add strong homeland security," she said. "President Reagan kept it simple. He concentrated on those things and accomplished a lot."

McFarland was set to hold a fund raising event and begin meeting key Republican supporters Thursday at the invitation of Robert E. Davis, chairman of the Erie County Republican Party, who has emerged as one of her top boosters. She is emphasizing her sterling educational background and high level positions in the Defense Department when Reagan was building up the American military.

As a speechwriter and assistant to then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, as the first woman to hold a professional position on the staff of the Senate Armed Services Committee and as a graduate of Oxford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, McFarland says she has the credentials to take on one of the biggest names in U.S. politics. Although she has been out of politics for 20 years while raising a family, she bristles at any suggestion of being out of touch.

"Just because I've been a stay-at-home mother for 20 years doesn't mean I have not been engaged in the issues and following the debate," she said.

Still, McFarland is dealing with revelations in the New York Post indicating she neglected to vote in many recent elections and voted from two addresses -- a potential violation of the law. She accepts "full responsibility" for that situation, she said Thursday, acknowledging she should have been a more conscientious voter.

She also points to the attacks pointed her way since she announced, in which she says she has been labeled as everything from "Manhattan elitist to a liberal."

"My dad belonged to a labor union his whole life, and I went to college on scholarships and student loans," she said. "Is that an elitist? I don't know.

"If I'm liberal, that's just another word for pro-choice," she added. "And I am pro-choice, just like the majority of women in this country."

McFarland recognizes the hurdles she faces are politely labeled "daunting." She must overcome a stubborn GOP obstacle in former Yonkers Mayor John Spencer, now backed by Stephen J. Minarik III, chairman of the State Republican Party, and Michael R. Long, chairman of the State Conservative Party. Then she must take on a Democratic superstar with presidential ambitions.

But she cited both Reagan and George Washington as underdogs who succeeded, and says that highlighting government response to a weak upstate economy serves as the foundation to her message.

"In this part of the state, people are still looking for those 200,000 jobs she promised," McFarland said of Clinton.

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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