NY-24: Times Declares The Seat "Now in Play"
by Scott Shields, Mon Apr 03, 2006 at 09:24:10 AM EDT
I was incredibly happy to finally hear about the retirement of upstate New York's moderate Republican Congressman, Sherwood Boehlert. There had been rumors for some time, but they'd come and go, and Boehlert would still be there. Last month, before the retirement announcement, Jonathan remarked that NY-24 "would be tough for Republicans to hold in such an anti-GOP year like 2006 without the advantage of incumbency." But even beyond the implications of a national anti-GOP sentiment, the Democratic candidate in the district will have the added advantage of the potentially huge coattails of both gubernatorial candidate Eliot Spitzer and incumbent Senator Hillary Clinton. This weekend, The New York Times profiled the race, writing that "Democrats [have] fresh hope of taking the seat."
...the district has been competitive in the last two presidential elections: in 2000, President Bush carried the district by only 3,000 votes, with 48 percent; in 2004, he won by a still relatively small margin of 17,000 votes, with 53 percent. Furthermore, while the Republicans have an edge in registration, about a third of the voters in the district are not enrolled as either Democratic or Republican and are considered swing voters.
A conversation with a voter will nearly always place jobs as the most pressing issue in this region, followed by high medical costs, particularly for the aged. But while the economy has been a concern here for years, what is new and prominent is the growing discontent with the war in Iraq.
"Jobs are a big issue here, and we really need more jobs," said Jason Matlock, 27, a cook at Henry B's Restaurant in Seneca Falls. "But the war is an issue for everyone. I have friends who are there right now. You had a lot of patriotism from people who wanted to support the troops. But now, a lot of people are against it. A lot of people think we've been there too long."
Democratic leaders say they are particularly encouraged by the erosion of President Bush's popularity as the war continues. Even Republican leaders acknowledge that discontent with the war has become an issue here.
"It's increasingly a cause for concern for people," said State Senator Raymond A. Meier, a Republican who is running for the Congressional seat. "People feel that they don't know what the plan or direction is for getting out of Iraq."
Congressional Quarterly ranks the race as having "No Clear Favorite," and I'd say that sounds about right. The Republicans are coming together behind state Senator Raymond Meier, who CQ characterizes as a "centrist," even if his record doesn't quite bear it out. As Paul Lomeo points out in a comment on the CQ piece, Meier is an anti-choice, anti-stem cell, anti-fair wage, pro-Bush fiscal policy rubber stamp in waiting. Boehlert, by comparison, was pro-choice and supported raising the minimum wage. By the standards of the district, Meier is anything but a centrist.
But first, the district's Democrats have to get their own house in order. The two leading candidates at this point are Michael Arcuri and Les Roberts. Arcuri, the District Attorney of Oneida County, has something of an advantage (in my mind, at least) in that he's already won a hard-fought political race in the region, which is no small feat for a Democrat. However, he's been somewhat vague about his policy positions. The Hill would give the advantage to Roberts, a health policy expert and activist, based on fundraising figures. Roberts also seems to have strong backing from the anti-war movement in the area, which could prove decisive in the primary. The other candidate mentioned by the Times, Leon Koziol, is by all reports a conservative DINO with no real shot at winning the nomination. A fourth candidate, former Cortland Mayor and teacher Bruce Tytler, has dropped out of the race.
Whether the nominee is Arcuri or Roberts, two different but compelling candidates, the Democrats have a good shot at flipping this district. The fact that the GOP is set to nominate someone like Meier makes that shot even better. Though they may position him as a Boehlert-like centrist, the state's increasingly extreme Conservative Party would not be so happily supporting Meier if that was the case. It's also doubtful that anyone who could claim to be a centrist would have earned a grade of F on the Drum Major Institute's Legislative Scorecard for siding with middle class New Yorkers only 36% of the time. Count me as pretty optimistic about this race.