Video: Another Clinton for President?

updated 10/21/2006 8:24:40 PM ET 2006-10-22T00:24:40

The Republican seeking to unseat Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton went on the attack against her in their first debate Friday, accusing her of putting presidential aspirations ahead of voters.

“I’m the only one standing on this platform who wants to be a United States senator for New York for the next six years,” said John Spencer, a former Yonkers mayor, in his opening remarks.

Clinton acknowledged that she has thought about running for the presidency in 2008, but said she is committed to running for Senate re-election.

“As you might guess, I’ve been asked that a few times before,” she said of her possible White House aspirations. “I am focused on this election. I am focused on my work in the Senate. Obviously, people are talking about whether I will or should be running for president, and I’m flattered by that.”

Still the front-runner
The debate attracted attention because Clinton, whose re-election appears increasingly likely, is the front-runner among potential 2008 Democratic presidential candidates. Analysts say the debates could be an important dress rehearsal for Clinton as she prepares to step onto the national stage.

Spencer is an ultraconservative former mayor of the New York City suburb of Yonkers, battling anonymity and a national party that has forsaken his candidacy.

He bashed Clinton throughout during the debate, attacking her on issues including immigration, North Korea and Iraq.

2006 key racesIn Spencer, Clinton faces an abortion-hating, anti-gun-control conservative who has been vocal in his support of President Bush and the war in Iraq. Though she voted for the war, Clinton, who supports abortion rights, has strongly criticized Bush’s conduct of the conflict.

Spencer said he favored changing war strategies, while Clinton said she favored changing course. She said that Bush’s stay-the-course stance was not a strategy and that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is not credible any longer.

“In the middle of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln did not hesitate to change generals,” she said.

Spencer scolded Clinton for taking such a position because Rumsfeld serves the president, and “you are not president yet,” he said.

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Clinton stressed the need for diplomacy on such issues as the nuclear situation in North Korea — something she said the Bush administration has failed to do.

“This administration doesn’t like to talk to people they disagree with,” Clinton said.

But she said she would not rule out using military force against North Korea.

Spencer showed flashes of humor, such as when he was asked about speculation that he was using the Senate race to set himself up for another run for mayor of Yonkers.

“I’m not going to leave a six-year term in the Senate to run for mayor of Yonkers again,” he said.

A statewide poll released on the eve of the debate by Quinnipiac University’s Polling Institute had Clinton leading Spencer 65 percent to 30 percent. She has also far outspent him.

Small TV audiences
The timing of the one-hour televised debates accepted by Clinton, Friday night in Rochester and Sunday morning in New York City, appeared designed to attract small television audiences. Spencer had sought a series of debates all across the state.

Spencer has been complaining loudly for months that the national GOP has left him hanging.

“Running for U.S. Senate against Hillary Clinton is a lot like walking point,” said the decorated Vietnam War veteran. “You find out who your buddies are real fast.”

Friday’s debate was sponsored and moderated by Time Warner cable television news channels and was aired across the state.

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