New York Deja Vu All Over Again

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Rep. Eric Massa has become the darling of conservatives.

    Upstate New York voters may be experiencing a sense of déjà vu, as state election officials prepare for the possibility of a third special election in the wake of Democratic Rep. Eric Massa’s planned resignation Monday amid allegations of ethical improprieties.

    But unlike in the two recent New York special elections, which Democrats won in Republican-friendly districts, Republicans are feeling bullish about their prospects for winning Massa’s seat, given the circumstances surrounding the vacancy and the conservative nature of Massa’s western New York district.

    Republicans hold a 45,000-voter registration advantage in New York’s 29th District, and it is one of only three in the state that voted for John McCain in the 2008 presidential election.

    “If a Republican can’t win this district in 2010, it’s hard to see where else they make up ground in New York,” said David Wasserman, House analyst of The Cook Political Report.

    “This is a seat that Republicans ought to be able to steal back, and the burden is on Democrats to make this race competitive now,” Wasserman said.

    New York Gov. David Paterson must now issue a proclamation for a special election to be held 30 to 40 days after his declaration. As in the two special elections held last year in New York, the party chairmen from counties in the district will select the nominees; there will be no primaries.

    But several New York Democratic operatives speculated that Paterson, in the midst of his own scandal and budgetary woes, may choose to bypass a special election and keep the seat vacant until January 2011. That would allow the party to focus on the regularly scheduled September primary and allow the scandal simmering around Massa to recede before the election.

    Paterson also could wait until August to call for a special election, allowing the context to coincide with the September primaries. That’s what several other governors have done amid congressional vacancies, and it would save the state money. But it still would leave the seat vacant for five months.

    “The first question is whether there will be a special election. It’s not a guarantee; it’s pretty expensive to do special elections,” said Monroe County Democratic Chairman Joe Morelle. “I would always want to fill vacancies and make sure folks are represented, even though I know it’s a costly exercise.”

    The eight Democratic county chairmen in the district held a conference call Friday afternoon to discuss strategy in preparation for a potential special election and have begun the process of interviewing prospective candidates.

     

    The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has experience with such situations, having won two special elections last year in districts with pronounced Republican registration advantages, like Massa’s. But Massa’s district is one of the most Republican in the state, and the political environment has worsened for Democrats since Rep. Bill Owens won his seat last November.

    “This is definitely an uphill battle, but we’ve already had two special election battles in New York, and our calves have been conditioned for a race like this,” said Rep. Steve Israel, who has taken the lead for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in recruiting candidates.

    The Democratic field is in flux, party leaders had been looking closely at Monroe County District Attorney Mike Green, a former Republican who has won elections in the most populous county in the district. Like the two Democratic candidates who won last year’s New York special elections, Green has no ties to Albany and holds law enforcement credentials that appeal to recruiters.

    “Having an individual with no elected experience is probably more in line with what the public would want,” said Morelle. “But we have some pretty strong candidates by virtue of being elected with a base of support.”

    But Green took himself out the running Monday afternoon, saying he was “flattered by the request,” but will not seek Massa’s seat.

    Several other Democratic candidates have expressed interest in running to succeed Massa, including state Assemblyman David Koon, businessman David Nachbar and state Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton.

    Hornell Mayor Shawn Hogan, whom Massa endorsed to be his successor, also took himself out of the running Monday.

    On the GOP side, the party is beginning to coalesce behind Corning Mayor Tom Reed, who entered the race in July and was the only Republican running before Massa’s sudden retirement announcement.

    Reed has already secured backing from seven of the eight county chairmen in the district, with only the Monroe County chairman remaining noncommittal. All eight Republican county chairmen in the district will vote on the nominee, if a special election is called.

    But after Massa’s announcement, several other Republican candidates gave consideration to the race. Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks met with National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas during a scheduled visit to Washington last week.

     

    Washington Republicans have courted Brooks to run for Congress before. In the 2008 cycle, she rebuffed entreaties to run against Democrat Dan Maffei in the neighboring 25th District. A former local television news reporter and the first woman to serve as Monroe County executive, Brooks won 74 percent of the vote in her 2007 reelection bid.

    Brooks, who endorsed Reed when he entered the race, has said she will make a final decision this week about challenging him in the primary.

    Meanwhile, former Rep. John “Randy” Kuhl (R-N.Y.) is seriously mulling over a campaign, according to GOP sources. He released a statement confirming his interest in the race and saying that the district needs “a proven and experienced leader.”

    Kuhl held the seat from 2005 to 2009 but lost to Massa by 2 percentage points in a failed bid for a third term. Republican operatives in Washington think he ran a lackluster campaign — he was outraised by Massa, then a little-known challenger — and aren’t encouraging him to run for his old seat.

    Reed said he hadn’t spoken to Brooks or Kuhl since Massa’s retirement announcement but said he counted Brooks as one of his supporters. He added that he will be backed by the state Conservative Party no matter who enters the race, complicating efforts for other Republican challengers.

    “The bottom line is we’ve been out there since July, we’ve been working extremely hard,” Reed said. “All I can say is, we’re going to be the candidate, and we’re going to keep fighting.”

    If Republicans stick with Reed, a well-liked mayor who isn’t part of the unpopular Albany establishment, they believe they’ll be making the safe choice. Despite his mediocre fundraising, Reed still starts a special election with a $123,000 head start. And if they abandon him and start from scratch, they risk allowing county chairmen to play an outsized role — a process that left them with two flawed candidates, Jim Tedisco and Dede Scozzafava, in last year’s statewide special elections..

    Ramping up his efforts since Massa’s retirement announcement, Reed has scheduled fundraisers later this month hosted by former New York GOP Reps. Amo Houghton (who held the seat from 1987 to 2005) and Bill Paxon.

    Tom Reed has had two fundraising quarters — a good first one, but the second one was anemic,” said former New York Rep. Tom Reynolds, who headed the National Republican Congressional Committee from 2002 to 2006. “He will need a shock wave of fundraising this quarter.”