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Possible new Clinton challenger presses exploration

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AP Political Writer

February 24, 2006, 3:20 PM EST

ALBANY, N.Y. -- A former top Pentagon official under President Reagan has begun reaching out to Republican leaders across New York as she steps up her exploration of a possible challenge to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's re-election bid this year.

Erie County GOP Chairman Robert Davis said Friday that at Kathleen Troia "KT" McFarland's request he would be meeting with her Monday in Buffalo and had invited other county leaders from western New York to join them.

"Based on her resume and on a 15-minute phone conversation with her yesterday, I was very impressed that she could be a significant opponent who could challenge Hillary Clinton on the issues," Davis said. "This person is not somebody who's going to back down from Hillary Clinton.

"She's definitely interested in doing it," Davis said.

In the wake of former prosecutor Jeanine Pirro's decision to drop out of the Senate race in December, Republicans expected their candidate to be former Yonkers Mayor John Spencer, an anti-abortion conservative.

But, earlier this month, McFarland said she had been approached by Republicans in Washington and New York about pursuing the GOP nomination. McFarland, who had been considering running for a congressional seat in Manhattan, refused to identify who was encouraging her to run instead for the Senate.

While leaders of the state GOP and of the state Conservative Party warned McFarland it might be too late to get into the Senate race, she decided to further explore the option.

"Right now, from my perspective, the door is wide open," Davis said, adding that McFarland seemed to want to get "the lay of the land" and "learn what's been going on and where the commitments are to John Spencer."

Davis said he felt Spencer was someone who could also carry the fight to Clinton. Nonetheless, the Buffalo-based party leader and a host of other local GOP chairmen have held off endorsing the former mayor.

There was no immediate comment Friday from McFarland.

McFarland, 54, was a deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs from 1982-85. She has been out of government since then, has never run for public office and is married to an investment banker.

Republican leaders were looking for an abortion-rights-supporting woman in casting about for a Clinton challenger. McFarland, a mother of five and grandmother of three, fits that description. So did Pirro, but she quit the race after being unable to raise much money or interest in her campaign. The former Westchester County district attorney is now seeking the GOP nomination to run for state attorney general.

Polls have consistently shown Clinton well ahead of her potential challengers. The former first lady is a potential 2008 presidential candidate.

A Spencer campaign aide said he doubted McFarland could generate much support in the New York GOP.

"Anytime a pro-abortion, big-government, elitist liberal is considering a run for the United States Senate, my advice to that person is to try the Democrat Party," said Spencer spokesman Christian Winthrop.

"Once again the GOP field is in disarray," said Clinton adviser Howard Wolfson.

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