Schumer, Gillibrand Hold on to Senate Seats | NBC New York
Schumer, Gillibrand Hold on to Senate Seats

Kirsten Gillibrand was finally elected to the U.S. Senate on Tuesday while fellow Democrat Charles Schumer eased to a third term, each defeating an underfunded and largely unknown Republican opponent.

The Associated Press called the races for both senators based on interviews with voters as they left the polls statewide. Schumer is considered a possible successor to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid if the Nevada senator loses his re-election bid. Schumer has brushed off questions about succeeding Reid, saying he expected the Nevada senator to win the race.

Gillibrand gets to hold the seat she was appointed to in January 2009, when Hillary Rodham Clinton resigned to become U.S. secretary of state. This will keep Gillibrand in the Senate through 2012, the year Clinton's term would have expired. Then, she would have to run again if she wants to keep the office.

The special-election victory provides a measure of vindication to the former congresswoman from upstate New York, who was dismissed by critics as too inexperienced and conservative when appointed by Gov. David Paterson. Gillibrand has spent her short Senate term building a statewide reputation and alliances with party power brokers. She also managed to avoid an election challenge from a marquee name.

The White House and party strategists in Washington helped her avoid a primary challenge and big-name Republicans such as former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani declined to run for the seat, leaving the race to former congressman Joseph DioGuardi, father of former "American Idol" judge Kara DioGuardi.

DioGuardi is a certified public accountant who represented Westchester County in the House for two terms in the 1980s.

Gillibrand says she will continue to focus on jobs by fighting against outsourcing and for the continuation of a research and development tax credit.

Schumer had little trouble winning a third six-year term in a race against Republican Jay Townsend, a political consultant from the Hudson Valley making his first run for public office.

The race for Schumer's seat had been eclipsed by more contentious and competitive races in New York. Outside of one debate, Schumer paid little attention to Townsend.

Schumer's campaign was notable for a series of upbeat TV ads airing across New York state.

Sitting on a political bank account that swelled to $23.2 million by August, Schumer was able to give out millions from his campaign fund to help fellow Democrats in tighter races, fueling speculation about his political future if Reid loses.

Schumer has promised to "focus like a laser" on job creation and helping the middle class in New York in his third term.