The Hayseed vs. Hillary

William Brenner is a small-town guy with a big ambition

"If Clinton is re-elected, we'll never see her," he says. "She won't be putting the New York economy first."

Any Other Volunteers?

Ask GOPers who'd make the '06 Senate race competitive for the party and, invariably, one name surfaces: Rudy Giuliani. But alas, Giuliani's top political aide said this month the former New York mayor is too busy to run. So aside from Bill Brenner, that leaves a short list of potential contenders:
Local hero: Clinton opponent William Brenner, in the heart of Grahamsville
photo: Steven Sunshine
Local hero: Clinton opponent William Brenner, in the heart of Grahamsville

Edward Cox, a Manhattan attorney, and the late President Richard Nixon's son-in-law. Part of his appeal stems from his connections to old-school Republicans waxing nostalgic. Cox is said to have the blessing of Governor George Pataki, making him the early favorite among GOP leaders.

Jeanine Pirro, the Westchester County district attorney. Pirro has the tough-on-crime thing nailed down, of course, as well as proven electability. The fact that she's a woman, as opposed to another white guy, doesn't hurt either.

Adam Brecht, a Manhattan public relations guru and former aide to Senator Alfonse D'Amato. Since last fall, Brecht has been quietly issuing press releases on everything from hedge funds to the pope's death. He has yet to make his candidacy official, saying that he's "exploring" an '06 bid. He lacks real name recognition, but gets props for his spiffy website, complete with an applause soundtrack and a candidate's blog. —K.L.

The economy seems the perfect rallying cry for any Republican challenger, especially in upstate communities caught for decades in a downward spiral. In 2000, Clinton held her own among these voters because she talked about the area's economic woes. But she also made promises on which she has yet to deliver—bringing 200,000 new jobs to depressed regions, for instance.

"We're still waiting for those jobs," notes Anthony Capozzi of Binghamton, who heads the Broome County Republican Committee.

Still, one reason Clinton is so formidable is that she has tried to solve economic problems. Says one upstate GOPer, "I dramatically disagree with her on issues, but she's an effective politician."

Last week, she and fellow New York senator Chuck Schumer fended off a challenge to a contract for the new fleet of presidential helicopters to be built at Lockheed Martin in the Binghamton area—a project worth some 750 engineering jobs.

Anyone who goes up against Clinton is likely to garner at least 30 percent of the vote, the true Hillary haters. But the New York GOP can't settle for a candidate without broad enough appeal to at least help the party even in a potentially losing effort, says one prominent Republican strategist. "There's a real campaign to find a challenger who would generate interest not only for the U.S. Senate race, but also for every other Republican running that year."

By these standards, Brenner seems like a long shot—a very long shot. Maybe that explains the reaction to his candidacy back home. "The Sullivan County Republican Committee doesn't want anything to do with Bill Brenner," Gregory Goldstein, its chairman, tells the Voice. "He is not a viable candidate. He has no chance at all."

Other GOP players won't discount Brenner just yet. "He's committed to beating Hillary Clinton," says Donnelly, the Delaware County chair. "I don't know how realistic it is, but I believe he'll do what he has to do to try."

Call Brenner the true believer. "I'm the real deal," he says. "You'll see."

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