Clinton camp goes on attack against GOP challenger

AP Political Writer

September 14, 2006, 5:19 PM EDT

ALBANY, N.Y. -- After months of ignoring her Democratic primary opponent, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign came out swinging Thursday against her newly minted Republican challenger.

Howard Wolfson, a top Clinton adviser, said it was clear from what former Yonkers Mayor John Spencer has already said that he is "determined to run a negative, personal campaign against Senator Clinton."

Wolfson's statement came in response to an appearance by Spencer on the all-news New York City cable channel NY1 on Wednesday night in which he said he only ran positive campaigns.

"If comparing Senator Clinton to Osama bin Laden is what John Spencer's `positive' campaign looks like, what do his negative campaigns consist of?" Wolfson said Thursday. "Given John Spencer's history, he probably doesn't consider a campaign negative until he threatens to murder his opponent."

That "murder" reference stems from an infamous video tape of Spencer jokingly suggesting, as he struggled with city budget issues, that perhaps Republican Gov. George Pataki and a federal judge should be killed.

On Tuesday, Clinton easily defeated anti-Iraq war activist Jonathan Tasini in her Democratic primary as Spencer bested Reagan-era Pentagon official Kathleen Troia "KT" McFarland in a GOP Senate primary. Clinton has virtually ignored Tasini during the months leading up to the primary and refused to debate him.

Among other things cited by Wolfson on Thursday that he said showed Spencer was prepared to run a negative campaign was a news release issued by the Republican in July that called Clinton a left-wing, anti-defense liberal."

"Senator Clinton is `a left-wing, anti-defense liberal,"' said Spencer spokesman Rob Ryan when asked about Wolfson's comments. "That's not being negative, it's simply a fact."

"John Spencer wants to have numerous debates so Senator Clinton can personally explain her opposition to the Patriot Act, NSA wiretapping and a host of other issues," Ryan added.

During the primary campaign, Spencer ran ads on cable television pairing Clinton with a photo of Osama bin Laden.

Clinton had termed that ad "outrageous,"

"He'll have to answer for it, but I think it's a terrible injustice," Clinton had said.

Wolfson said Clinton would be engaging in debates, although he wouldn't say Thursday how many of them there will be.

Clinton is far ahead of Spencer in fundraising and in the polls.

There had been speculation in both Republican and Democratic circles that Clinton, with an eye on a possible run for the 2008 Democratic nomination for president, preferred facing the conservative former mayor than running against McFarland. Spencer is a conservative who -- like McFarland, Clinton and many Democratic presidential primary voters -- opposes abortion and gay rights.