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Nocera reports: "New York isn't what you'd typically call a swing state - it's about as blue as they come. But in the battle for the House majority, few states matter more."

Rep. Steve Israel, the new chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Sunday morning that he is optimistic about House Democrats' chances at gaining seats in 2012. (photo: AP)
Rep. Steve Israel, the new chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Sunday morning that he is optimistic about House Democrats' chances at gaining seats in 2012. (photo: AP)



New York: The Unexpected House Battleground

By Kate Nocera, Politico

10 July 12

 

ew York isn't what you'd typically call a swing state - it's about as blue as they come. But in the battle for the House majority, few states matter more.

No fewer than eight seats there are in play in November. And New York Rep. Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said it's no exaggeration that the road to House control may well run through his home state.

"New York is pivotal to taking the majority and protecting Medicare and the middle class," Israel said in an interview. "As a result of redistricting, there's no longer any such thing as a safe Republican in New York."

The large number of competitive House races, especially in more conservative districts upstate, has turned New York into an unexpected battleground arena for both parties. While a court-drawn redistricting map and the high voter turnout of a presidential year could play to the Democrats' favor this year, nothing is certain. Republicans still made huge gains in 2010 with Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo on the top of the ticket and President Barack Obama's unpopularity in swing districts could hurt incumbent Democrats.

With so many seats in play, both sides are preparing for all-out war. Voters in the contested districts will be barraged with ads from outside groups as well as the national party committees.

Israel's top targets include Republican Reps. Nan Hayworth, Ann Marie Buerkle, Chris Gibson and Michael Grimm. All of them rode the 2010 GOP wave to victory but represent moderate swing districts.

Republicans have their sights on four vulnerable Democrats: Reps. Kathy Hochul, Bill Owens, Tim Bishop and Louise Slaughter.

With a roughly equal number of Democrats and Republicans on target lists, Republicans believe Democrats might be too bullish about their chances in the Empire State.

"There's a greater chance that Scientology wasn't the cause of TomKat's divorce than there is of Steve Israel's New York fantasy coming true," National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Nat Sillin responded.

David Wasserman, who tracks congressional races for The Cook Political Report, wrote in May that "Democrats would be lucky to win back just one or two of the five seats they lost in 2010" and cited Hochul and Buerkle as the two most vulnerable incumbents. If both lost to their respective challengers, it would be a wash in terms of seats gained and lost.

Although there have always been several moderate to conservative districts in New York, the state had only two Republicans in its delegation in the 111th Congress. Former Democratic Rep. Dan Maffei, who is taking on Buerkle in a rematch for his old House seat, said Democrats weren't expecting so many New York seats to flip to the GOP in 2010.

Though the newly drawn district he's running in favors Democrats by a few percentage points, Maffei said New York Democrats are taking nothing for granted and are more prepared this election cycle with the DCCC so invested in winning the races. Democrats are expected to spend heavily in New York, along with Illinois and California.

"I was more concerned than a lot of people in Washington were [in 2010]," he said. "But when you lose 63 seats, there was clearly something wrong with the strategy. … This time, we'll certainly have the money to compete; the energy level is much higher. The party is better prepared."

One major issue in the races is Obama's health care law. The DCCC launched online ads slamming Gibson and Hayworth as House Republicans are set to vote again to repeal the law. On the right, the American Action Network went up with ads that portrayed Slaughter, Owens and Bishop as "three stooges" who voted for the law.

But incumbents across the state still appear to have an edge. For instance, Slaughter faces a tough opponent in Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks. But the congresswoman remains a popular political figure and a formidable fundraiser.

Owens's challenger Matt Doheny lost by only 1,900 votes in 2010 but recently faced a string of unflattering headlines when Gawker posted a video of him canoodling with a woman who was not his fiancée (he denied wrongdoing and married his fiancée over a week ago). Doheny predicted Mitt Romney would win his district and voters who "were looking for a change" would help him beat Owens.

On the Republican side, though Staten Island Republican Michael Grimm is facing an FBI investigation for a fundraising scandal, Wasserman predicted he'll be tough to beat.

And Israel still sees Hochul's 2011 special election win in a conservative area of western New York as an important barometer for how voters feel about Rep. Paul Ryan's budget to overhaul the Medicare program.

"We're going to hold Republicans … accountable for saying they would protect Medicare and [then] voting to end Medicare. They are defending the indefensible," Israel said. "If you voted to protect Medicare, you will win the election. And if you voted to end Medicare, you will lose."

Sillin promised Republicans weren't going to make it that easy.

"By Steve Israel's own standard, he and his colleagues who supported Obamacare's $500 billion in cuts to Medicare are going to lose in November," the NRCC spokesman said. "We can't guarantee that, but we can guarantee we'll be on offense to hold New York Democrats accountable and ensure that Nancy Pelosi never sits in the speaker's chair again."

Hayworth said in an interview that she understands the blue-state dynamics of New York. Rejecting the notion she's a tea party conservative, she said she subscribes to Republican ideology "to respect the individual and provide responsible government" but also does what's best for her district. She told New York's Capital Tonight that she voted with Obama about "a third of the time."

Hayworth has also described herself as pro-environment and said she wants to "repeal and replace" the health care law, which she called the "wrong law, but the goals are the right goals."

"People do have to have that extra confidence that their representative is truly thinking about how to work across the aisle," Hayworth said.

Hayworth said convincing voters to cross party lines is nothing new for New York Republicans.

"It's the ocean we swim in here," she said. "We had that experience in 2010."

As Democratic candidates cast their Republican opponents as too conservative for New York, some GOP lawmakers such as Hayworth have moved to the center. Buerkle, however, is taking a different approach, betting her conservative bona fides will help her stay in office.

"I think what people are going to have to decide in both the presidential race and in my race is the vision for what we want this country to look like," she said.

For Israel, it's not just about home state pride, but a solid chance at breaking through in some moderate districts he believes Democrats have a shot at.

"There's always home state pride. But I'm a Mets fan, so I'll take a win at home or away."

 

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