House Outlook for 2008
Will the GOP Swing the Pendulum Back?
New York (13) (Open Seat)
Outlook: Likely Democratic
September 16, 2008 Update:
After a summer of turmoil and tragedy in New York’s 13th Congressional district, we finally have nominees for the fall. As expected, NYC councilor Michael McMahon swept through the Democratic primary, defeating 2006 candidate Stephen Harrison by nearly three to one. Meanwhile, after countless trials and tribulations, Republicans have settled upon the candidacy of party-endorsed Robert Straniere over physician Jim Wyne by a smaller margin of 59-41.
Emerging from the primaries, the two parties are on opposite ends of the enthusiasm spectrum. Rumors abound over Straniere’s supposed financial troubles, and his lastest gimmick, selling “the world’s most expensive hot dog” for $4.6K apiece, will do little to quiet the whispers. Furthermore, Brooklyn conservatives, local GOP officials, and Republican backers of Wyne have yet to embrace Straniere as their party’s nominee. With the Republican Party in disarray (see previous update for details), Democrats are thrilled with McMahon’s chances to capture the last remaining GOP seat in New York City.
July 15, 2008 Update:
Just when you think the congressional race in New York’s 13th district can’t get any crazier, it does. This seat has certainly lived up to its unlucky number for GOPers this year, with Rep. Vito Fossella retiring following his DIU arrest and the revelation of a child as a result of an affair. Following Fossella’s announcement that he wouldn’t seek reelection, GOP hopes were pinned on Frank Powers, who then passed away unexpectedly in late June.
Understandably this series of events left the local Republican Party in disarray. With the petition filing deadline rapidly approaching, Republicans filed Powers’ signatures giving them a few extra days before they would have to name a replacement endorsee. The eventual winner of those sweepstakes was former assemblyman Robert Straniere, a divisive figure even within his own party. In 2004, Straniere lost his seat in the state assembly after the Staten Island GOP chose another candidate for their endorsement and Straniere lost the resulting primary. Local GOP leaders did choose him this time around, eschewing the other option, Jamshad Wyne, who is the Staten Island GOP finance chairman and a physician. Wyne will now meet Straniere in the September primary, but without the party support Straniere will receive.
Still the insanity is not over, as some Republicans have hinted that they will cross over to vote for Independence Party candidate Carmine Morano instead of supporting Straniere. Morano and Conservative Party candidate Paul Atanasio both sought the GOP endorsement but were passed over and are now ineligible to run in the primary since they are not registered Republicans. Atanasio in particular faces a very tough race, since he is endorsed only by Brooklyn Conservatives and not by the Staten Island wing of the party, which has chosen to support Democrat Michael McMahon.
Seem confusing? It is. With every added ounce of confusion, though, McMahon and Democrats pull further away. Republican fractures and fissures now seem much too deep to plaster over completely before November and Democrats are now the likely victors.
July 2, 2008 Update:
The unexpected passing of Republican Frank Powers in late June adds another sad chapter to the GOP saga in this Staten Island district. Now, Republicans must recruit a new challenger and gather over 1,000 signatures before July 10 to qualify for the ballot. Therein lies the problem, as none of the local GOP party chairmen seem able to agree on who should be the nominee.
With all the top tier options exhausted the only names left on the list are investment banker Paul Atanasio, Staten Island GOP treasurer Jamshad Wyne, and businessman Carmine Morano. While Atanasio is the favorite of the Brooklyn GOP chair, he has some professional baggage as a result of his resignation after allegations of nepotism, and other GOP leaders have not been forthcoming with their support. Wyne has a similar problem, as he was fined and placed on probation by the health department for negligence in his cardiology practice. Morano’s candidacy would also be unusual given his current status as a candidate for the Independence Party line, although he could run under both the Independence and GOP banners.
The bottom line is that whoever the GOP eventually chooses will be the heavy underdog against likely Democratic nominee Michael McMahon. In just a few short months this seat has gone from an easy Republican hold to a complete toss-up and now should fall squarely into the Democratic column, barring further unexpected events.
Just to prove that nothing is going Republicans’ way in 2008, the last GOP seat in New York City is now endangered. The foibles of retiring Rep. Vito Fossella have been well documented and his eventual retirement decision was not unexpected. What was unexpected was the desperate scramble by the GOP to find a replacement. Recruit after recruit resisted the party’s advances, until finally they settled for Frank Powers, a rather unknown quantity whose previous political involvement was mainly in financing the campaigns of others. Powers seems bent on retaining the seat however, pledging to spend $500,000 of his own money and to raise another $500,000 in this defensive effort.
Democrats, on the other hand, got one of their top picks: New York City Councilor Michael McMahon. While McMahon must still contend with 2006 nominee Steve Harrison, he is the clear establishment favorite, having won the endorsement of the Staten Island Party and that of the Brooklyn Democrats chair. McMahon is seen as a strong candidate, since he lives in Staten Island, which comprises most of this district which also encompasses Brooklyn, and since he currently holds elected office.
While it is much too early to know how these candidates will handle the rigors of a congressional campaign, it is already clear that national attention will be focused on New York’s 13th district as Democrats seek to wipe the last Red smudge off the New York City map.
New York (19)
Outlook: Likely Democratic
June 2, 2008 Update:
Republican candidate George Oros announced he would end his bid today, handing the GOP nomination to Iraq War veteran Kieran Lalor whom the party endorsed at a convention last week. Lalor will face Democratic Rep. John Hall in November. While Lalor hopes to be a concern for Hall, money won’t be. Hall leads the fundraising race with $1.1 million cas
h on hand, while Lalor has under $100,000.
Representative John Hall, formerly of the band Orleans, is ”Still the One” in the eyes of Tom Cole and the NRCC, but unfortunately, prospective candidates in New York’s nineteenth district don’t see it that way. After businessman Andrew Saul dropped out and assemblyman Greg Ball passed on the bid, Hall’s only challengers are Westchester county politician George Oros and Iraq war veteran Kieran Michael Lalor. Oros, though hardly a top-tier candidate, has the primary advantage due to his electoral experience in liberal-leaning Westchester.
For Hall, high on national Republicans target list, a relatively painless reelection could work wonders toward establishing gravitas in Congress and loyalties within the district. There is still time to recruit a strong challenger against Hall, but the potential presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton (which grows ever dimmer with time) could dampen enthusiasm from New York Republicans.
New York (20)
Outlook: Leans Democratic
June 12, 2008 Update:
Former New York GOP Chair Sandy Treadwell is almost there. He has done everything but lock up the nomination, having raised $1.7 million through March and already running TV ads to boost his name recognition. His nearest opponent for the GOP nod is Michael Rocque, a special forces officer turned management executive. Rocque had raised just $230,000 at the end of the first quarter, but has frustrated Treadwell’s efforts to unite the GOP and Conservative Party behind a single candidate. While Treadwell has earned the endorsement of four county Conservative Party organizations, Rocque has three endorsements under his own belt.
Along with underdog candidate John Wallace, these two GOP candidates are dueling for the chance, almost certain to be won by Treadwell, to take on freshman Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand in the fall. Gillibrand has been seen as vulnerable ever since her election which made her the first Democrat to hold the seat in 28 years. Bush carried the district by 7% or more in both 2000 and 2004, while it took a series of escalating scandals on the part of the incumbent Republican for Gillibrand to eke out her 53-47 victory in 2006.
Republicans have had this seat on their target list since before Gillibrand was even sworn in, but they haven’t been able to catch the first-term Congresswoman napping. She has been a frequent sight back in her district despite spending the workweek in DC and accruing more in campaign fundraising travel expenses than any other member of Congress. The work has paid off with Gillibrand earning local headlines and big bucks too; her bank account had a balance of $2.5 million at the end of March. While she’s out-fundraised Treadwell and outperformed Republican expectations, Gillibrand must still be leery of the district’s Red hue and Treadwell’s political pedigree.
Almost before the champagne bubbles fizzed out at freshman Representative Kirsten Gillibrand’s victory party, her reelection bid began in earnest. Eight months into 2007, Gillibrand’s seat already attracted three credible Republican challengers and a Democrat critical of her Iraq war funding votes. Leading the GOP field is former New York GOP chair Sandy Treadwell who is a proven fundraiser and political organizer and marks a recruiting coup for national Republicans. Treadwell is well on his way to securing the endorsement of the state party over his primary challengers John Wallace and Michael Roque.
If he gets the nod, Treadwell should mount a strong challenge to Gillibrand in the district’s conservative-leaning New York City suburbs. Fundraising is not an issue for either candidate. Treadwell’s $1.24 million in 2007 contributions is tops of all House challengers, but is surpassed by Gillibrand’s $2.6 million haul, second only to Charles Rangel of all House incumbents. Both Treadwell and Gillibrand will need every penny in the nation’s most expensive media markets. While Gillibrand should be considered an early favorite, she lacks the luxury of an easy campaign and will have to earn every ounce of her reelection in November.
Kirsten Gillibrand (I) – Democrat – current Congresswoman
John Wallace – Republican – former New York State Trooper, talk radio host
Michael Rocque – Republican – retired Special Forces officer
Sandy Treadwell – Republican – former New York Secretary of State, chair of New York State Republican Committee
New York (24)
Outlook: Likely Democratic
In 2006, the 24th District was the site of one of the most pitched open seat battles in the county. The Republican and Democratic House campaign committees spent a combined $4 million on advertisements supporting their respective candidates, but mostly tearing down the other side. Ultimately, Democrat Michael Arcuri prevailed by almost ten percent and now holds the seat, and a coveted position of the House Rules Committee.
Now Arcuri is being challenged by Republican businessman Richard Hanna. Hanna has already committed over $300,000 of his own money to the race, a welcome development for the cash-strapped NRCC who will be very unlikely to match last year’s spending orgy. In addition, Hanna has been tacking away from the GOP, noting his independence and even racking up the endorsement of the Independence Party which supported Arcuri in 2006.
The district went for Bush in 2004 by a six percent margin, but it should be something of a battleground at the congressional level this year with two strong, well-funded candidates facing off. If the the DCCC decides to reprise its heavy spending of 2008 and the NRCC can’t keep up, however, Arcuri could win his second election by a margin as comfortable as that of his first.
New York (25) (Open Seat)
Outlook: Leans Democratic
June 12, 2008 Update:
With Republican Dale Sweetland wrapping up the support of county GOP organizations, he is now the party’s nominee. His almost-certain opponent is Democrat Dan Maffei, who lost to retiring Rep. Jim Walsh by just 1% in 2006 and is so far unopposed in his bid to repeat as Dem nominee.
Sweetland recently released a poll showing himself in a statistical dead heat with Maffei, but critics have pointed out that the polling firm is the same one that predicted at 13% victory for Walsh in 2006. Adding to the uncertainty, Sweetland has yet to report any fundraising to the FEC, although he reportedly has the goal of raising $500,000 by the end of July. Sweetland has been frank about his dislike for the fundraising side of politics, potentially a bad sign since Maffei has already banked over $1 million for his repeat bid.
Even though this seat has been Red for the past few decades at the Congressional level, it is very competitive for Democrats, who carried the district in both 2000 and 2004 at the presidential level, albeit by small margins both times. Maffei has the advantage of running a similar race before, but Sweetland will have much support from Walsh and others who want to keep the seat in the Republican column for decades more.
The retirement of Representative James Walsh capped off a week of high-profile exits that will give NRCC chair Tom Cole nightmares for months to come. Walsh’s decision surprised most insiders and Republicans are scrambling to find a nominee for the open seat. Thus far, only former state fair director Peter Cappuccilli and business leader Randy Wolken have entered the race, but Onondaga district attorney William Fitzpatrick, former Onondaga county politician Dale Sweetland, ex-assemblyman Jeff Brown, and former Syracuse councilor Rick Guy have expressed interest.
Congressional press secretary Dan Maffei, who came within 2 percent of unseating Walsh in 2006, entered before the incumbent’s retirement and is off to a running start against the rest of the field. Maffei is on pace to surpass his 06 fundraising and has assembled national and district Democratic support, but the potential candidacy of Syracuse mayor Matt Driscoll could complicate the nomination. In a general election, the liberal-leaning district provides another wrinkle; unlike elsewhere in the United States, a Hillary Clinton presidential nomination may boost turnout from New York Democrats and create even tougher terrain for Republican defenders. Even if Obama receives the nod (which is appearing ever more likely), this will be an uphill battle for Republicans without a top-tier candidate.
New York (26) (Open Seat)
September 16, 2008 Update:
Surprise! Just like everyone else, the Crystal Ball got caught up in the back and forth bickering between Jonathan Powers and Jack Davis and failed to acknowledge the upstart candidacy of attorney Alice Kryzan, winner of last Tuesday’s primary. While we can admit our mistake, in retrospect, Kryzan’s come-from-nowhere victory makes sense. For the past three months, Davis and Powers have been at each other’s throats. Powers had hammered on Davis’ shady dealings with the wives of third party chairmen, and Davis attacked Powers over his mismanagement of War Kids Relief, a failed charity for orphaned Iraqi children.
While the DCCC-endorsed Powers and deep-pocketed Davis threw haymakers at each other, Kryzan, unscathed, could sit on the sidelines and watch her polling numbers rise. Davis’ decision not to attend the Democratic debates may have been the final straw, giving Kryzan a virtually unopposed platform to voice her own criticisms of her opponents.
Now that the dust has settled, what kind of candidate do Democrats have in Kryzan? By virtue of comparison, she carries far less baggage into a general election than either Powers or Davis. However, one may question whether Kryzan can match the campaign experience or fundraising chops of her two better known opponents in a battle against self-financing businessman Christopher Lee. Come November, we’ll know a lot more about the unexpected candidacy of Alice Kryzan, but for now only time will tell whether her primary victory was a taste of things to come or merely a product of favorable circumstance.
July 30, 2008 Update:
The primary concern for New York Democrats is, well, the primary campaign in the 26th district. Insiders believe that if Iraq veteran Jonathan Powers is the nominee, Democrats have a real shot against businessman Christopher Lee. On the other hand, if two-time nominee Jack Davis gets the nod, his high negatives from past races will quash any chance of the pickup. So far, national Democrats are putting their money where their mouth is—the DCCC has endorsed and added Powers to their Red to Blue list—but so too has Davis, drawing from incredibly deep pockets to fund his own campaign. Davis may have won the first battle in a U.S. Supreme Court challenge overturning the Millionaire’s Amendment, but Democratic hopes of capturing the seat depend on him losing the war and Powers emerging victorious from the primary.
New York’s 26th district looks like the perfect setting for a Democratic pickup. The district is reasonably competitive—with Bush taking 55 percent in 2004 and only 51 percent in 2000—and now—with Republican Rep. Tom Reynold’s retirement announcement—it is an open seat. There’s only one problem: there may be too many Democrats who want it.
While Republicans have coalesced behind businessman Chris Lee, Democrats have a four-way primary mess on their hands. Iraq veteran Jonathan Powers is a favorite of bloggers and all seven of the district’s county Democratic committees, but businessman Jack Davis is fighting to reclaim his 2004 and 2006 mantle as party nominee. Davis’ main forte is his funding, as he has pledged to commit $3 million to the race. Davis worries some Dems, though, as they have seen him fall short twice before.
While an open seat in a barely Republican district is certainly ripe for the taking with national winds at Democrats’ backs, this pickup is far from certain. Republicans have found their candidate and they’re sticking to him. Democrats must follow suit quickly, and without expensive infighting, or they risk losing this plum opportunity.
New York (29)
June 12, 2008 Update:
While both candidates are posting anemic fundraising totals, perhaps Rep. Randy Kuhl’s inaction is the most disturbing. It has been over a year and a half since his narrow electoral escape in November 2006 by just 6,000 votes out of the 200,000 cast. Despite ample time and clear indications that he would once again face nearly-victorious challenger Eric Massa, Kuhl has raised just $630,000 this cycle and had only $365,000 left in his campaign account at the end of March. Massa hasn’t done much better over the past 20 months, but he has out-raised Kuhl, raking in $900,000 this cycle with $565,000 still on hand.
Even worse is that Kuhl still doesn’t seem to get the picture. In the first quarter of 2008, the most recent quarter for which FEC reports are available, Massa raised more than twice as much as Kuhl, further increasing the fundraising gap. Kuhl’s camp has recently tried to spin things in a more positive light, releasing in May a poll conducted in January that showed Kuhl leading Massa by a 46-26 margin. The general rule-of-thumb, however, is that polls showing incumbents under 50% are bad news, so this release offers little explanation for Kuhl’s apparent torpor.
If Kuhl doesn’t take steps to protect himself, he can hardly expect the cash-strapped NRCC to pick up the slack, even though Massa hasn’t been exactly been wowing. In a Democratic year, following a near-fatal 2006 result, it is flirting with disaster to be trailing in fundraising this late into the cycle. When the next FEC reports are due in mid-July, Empire State politicos will be scouring Kuhl’s filings for any further signs of weakness. It will be up to him to prove the naysayers wrong.
New York Republicans are rapidly becoming a rare breed. With 2006 losses by Representatives Sue Kelly (R-19) and John Sweeney (R-20) and Rep Michael Arcuri’s (D-24) open seat victory, the GOP delegation has dwindled to six. Four more congressman—Reps. King, Reynolds, Walsh, and Kuhl—won dangerously narrow victories in 06. Representative Randy Kuhl survived a scare from retired naval officer Eric Massa, who came within two percent of unseating the second-term incumbent.
Massa is back and has a clear road to the nomination, but neither candidate has impressed with fundraising this cycle. Given the once-in-a-generation convergence of pro-Democratic circumstances in 2006, Massa may have reached his electoral ceiling, but like any New York Republican, Kuhl will not let down his guard.