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Blog Home Page --> House -- New York -- 13

DCCC Plunks Down Big Bucks

House Democrats started flexing their financial muscle last night, reserving their first major advertising slots ahead of November elections and offering a peek into the party's priorities. In all, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee reserved $4 million in three competitive districts between September and the November 4 election, beginning the process of swamping Republicans with their financial advantage.

Buoyed by surprising and scandalous revelations that forced Rep. Vito Fossella to announce his retirement from his Staten Island-based Thirteenth District in New York, Democrats plunked down $2.1 million in the pricey New York City market. The party has largely coalesced around New York City Councilmember Mike McMahon, while Republicans are struggling to find a candidate of their own.

After one candidate the GOP settled on passed away last weekend, a new round of recruitment efforts has been rebuffed by everyone on the list, including Fossella himself. At least eight potential candidates have said no to Republican efforts to get them on the ballot. McMahon looks very likely to take back the last Republican-held seat that touches any part of New York City.

Democrats have also reserved about $700,000 on Colorado's eastern slope and high plains, money targeted at ousting incumbent Republican Marilyn Musgrave. Musgrave's Fourth District, which looks like an inverted "L" hanging north and curving down the state's eastern edge, has been contested before, and while Democrats came close in 2006, they are confident in former congressional aide Betsy Markey's chances.

The ad buy comes largely in the Denver media market, which feeds into the bulk of the district's homes, with a smaller amount coming in the Colorado Springs-Pueblo market. Musgrave has a significant cash advantage, with more than $1 million in the bank through November compared with $376,000 for Markey. But the DCCC's commitment can take away Musgrave's advantage in a heartbeat.

Democrats aren't completely playing offense, though. The party has also reserved $1.2 million in advertising time in the Portland, Oregon market in order to defend retiring Rep. Darlene Hooley's seat. Hooley's district is the most competitive in the state, running from south of Portland and the Cascade Mountains to the Pacific Ocean and including Salem, the state capital. President Bush won the district by a single point in both 2000 and 2004.

State Senator Kurt Schrader is in good position to keep the seat, as his Republican opponent, 2006 nominee Mike Erickson, has been battered by accusations that he paid for an abortion even though he says he is pro-life, accusations that first cropped up in the primary but have only gotten louder. Erickson came surprisingly close to beating Hooley in 2006, and he's got a lot of his own money to spend, but whether he will survive the scandal remains an open question.

Putting money into three seats so early gives the DCCC the opportunity to buy ads at cheaper political rates come the Fall. It does not, however, mean that Democrats have to spend their money in any of the seats. Democrats may find the New York and Oregon seats in their pockets by the time September or October roll around, and if the party decides the money is better spent elsewhere, they will do so.

With such a big cash advantage, look for national Democrats to plunk down money early and often. Republicans, who have yet to cross into the tens of millions of dollars on hand category, could find themselves hurt by increasing ad prices, especially as John McCain and Barack Obama start to make their own ad buys. But at least Republicans will know where Democrats are placing their bets.

Fossella Replacement Dies

Republicans looking for a break in an already uphill battle in New York's Thirteenth District were dealt another blow this weekend when Frank Powers, the party's chosen replacement for retiring Rep. Vito Fossella, passed away in his sleep at his Staten Island home, the New York Times reported. He was 67 years old.

Powers, a member of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, a major Republican donor and a retired Wall Street executive, had been tapped last month as the party's favored candidate to run for the seat, which Fossella is vacating after a drunken driving charge and the revelation that he fathered a child outside his marriage. Powers had been Fossella's finance chairman, the Times reported.

Democrats have long had their eye on the seat, which voted for Al Gore but, three years after September 11, 2001, gave President Bush a big margin of victory. Aside from Staten Island, the district also has a few Brooklyn neighborhoods in it. The party is leaning on New York City councilman Michael McMahon, of the island, who got a visit last month from DCCC chairman Chris Van Hollen.

McMahon doesn't have a clear shot at the seat just yet. He will likely face Stephen Harrison, an attorney who ran against Fossella in 2006, and whose campaign first indicated the district might be prone to breaking Democratic. Harrison spent just $132,000, less than one-tenth of what Fossella spent in 2006, and ended up with 43% of the vote.

Several other Republicans remain on the ballot, though none look like serious threats at the moment. Republicans have until July to find a replacement candidate, though several one-time top prospects sat out the first round of GOP recruiting when Fossella first announced he would step down. The party now finds itself at a significant disadvantage in the race to retain the last seat in which a Republican represents part of the country's largest city.

Fossella Drops Bid

Embattled Republican Rep. Vito Fossella will not run for re-election, the New York Times reported last night, relieving at least a small burden on House Republicans nervous at the prospect of another scandal-tainted member hurting their party's national image. Arrested for driving while intoxicated on May 1 in Alexandria, Virginia, Fossella was bailed out of jail by his girlfriend, with whom he has a young daughter. Fossella also has three children with his wife in New York.

"This choice was an extremely difficult one, balanced between my dedication to service to our great nation and the need to concentrate on healing the wounds that I have caused to my wife and family. Despite the personal mistakes I have made, I am touched by the outpouring of support and encouragement I have received from so many people," a statement from Fossella's office said. "While many have urged me to run for re-election, I believe this course of action is best for my family and our community."

Fossella, who at 43 is serving his fifth full term, had been under increasing pressure from Republican leader John Boehner in recent days to end his bid. Boehner unsubtly began making phone calls to potential candidates who might replace Fossella, most notably Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan, while Democrats in Washington and New York began to pay new attention to a race they already believed they had an outside shot of winning.

Other Republicans considering a bid include State Senator Andrew Lanza and New York City Councilmembers Vincent Ignizio and James Oddo. 2006 Democratic nominee Steve Harrison is running again, as is councilmember Domenic Recchia, who represents a council district in the Brooklyn sliver of the Congressional seat. Democrats are also working on potential candidates who live on Staten Island, which makes up most of the district, including State Senator Diane Savino, Assemblyman Michael Cusick and councilman Michael McMahon.

Fossella's ouster is a mixed blessing for Republicans. Boehner is uninterested in seeing scandal-plagued members stick around and has taken a much harder line with trouble-makers than previous Republican leaders. But the party now has an additional seat in play: Al Gore beat President Bush in the district by eight points, though four years later security voters handed Bush a ten-point win. The district, by any measure, is marginal, and while Republicans have good prospective candidates to take over, this year has not proven favorable to the GOP.

Vito In, Or Out

Conflicting reports about the future of embattled New York Republican Vito Fossella suggest the five-term Congressman either will run for re-election or could resign from office as early as today. Fossella, who was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol a week and a half ago in Virginia and later admitted to a long affair with a woman with whom he fathered a daughter, has maintained through a spokesperson that he has not decided his future yet.

"I got every indication that he plans to run again," Fossella's political mentor, former Rep. Guy Molinari, told the New York Post. "He's not just inclined to run. He plans on running." Molinari said virtually the same thing to the Staten Island Advance. "Congressman Fossella appreciates the support of so many people, including Guy Molinari, but he has not made any decision yet," said a statement from his crisis communicator early Sunday morning. "And he continues to spend time with his family."

The statements came after Republican leaders showed little sympathy for Fossella, with Minority Leader John Boehner telling the New Yorker to make a decision on his future this weekend. And while the public posturing looks bold, Molinari's comments may just be a trial balloon to see if Fossella can stay in office until his term expires at the end of the year. If Fossella is forced out by July 1, New York Governor David Patterson could call a special election to fill the rest of the unexpired term, with the winner likely heavily favored heading into November.

A special election would allow party leaders in New York to select a candidate to face off. Republicans, the Advance writes, are looking at District Attorney Daniel Donovan, State Senator Andrew Lanza and New York City Councilmember James Oddo; Donovan, who took a call from Boehner and NRCC chair Tom Cole last week, appears to be the favorite. Democrats are eying State Senator Diane Savino, Councilmember Michael McMahon and State Assemblyman Michael Cusick, though Councilmember Domenic Recchia and an attorney are already in the race.

Recchia is from Brooklyn, which only contributes a small number of voters to the mostly Staten Island-based district. Conventional wisdom holds that the best candidate for the seat will come from the population base on the island.

National Republicans don't need another special election, especially one in the New York media market, sapping their coffers. The party has already spent millions unsuccessfully defending seats in Louisiana and Illinois, while also spending money in special elections in Ohio and Virginia. The party has spent more than $1.3 million on a Mississippi seat that will be decided tomorrow, as well. But while Democrats have won in increasingly strong Republican districts, Fossella's is marginal, at best, and the opposing party would have a very real chance of picking it off in an open seat contest.

Fossella Out?

After being arrested for driving while intoxicated, New York Congressman Vito Fossella may have a difficult time sticking around, and he could be preparing to announce he will not seek re-election as early as today, the Washington Post's Sleuth writes. Add another headache for beleaguered House Republicans: Fossella's Staten Island district is prime swing territory.

Busted a week ago after running a red light in Alexandria, just outside Washington, Fossella's troubles have only mounted in recent days. After originally telling officers he was on the way to take his daughter to the hospital, Fossella later said he was simply going to visit friends, at 12:15 a.m. He was later sprung from jail by a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, Laura Fay, whose house is just a few miles from where Fossella was pulled over.

Fay divorced, according to The Sleuth, with no children, though she now has a young daughter. The congressman's lead communications expert, who has widely been described as a crisis communicator, has refused to answer questions about whether the girl is Fossella's daughter. Fossella and his wife have three children.

Republican insiders are buzzing at the possibility that Fossella will announce his plans to retire after this Congress, and if he does, the National Republican Congressional Committee will have to add another prime Democratic target to their list of seats to defend. Fossella already trailed in fundraising, with just $248,000 in the bank at the end of March compared with New York City Councilman Domenic Recchia's $325,000, and was likely to face a tough race.

Fossella beat attorney Steve Harrison, who will face Recchia in the state's primary, by a fourteen-point margin in 2006, and his winning percentages have decreased since peaking at 70% in 2002. The district voted for Al Gore over President Bush by eight points in 2000, but favored Bush by ten points in 2004 after his response to the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Democrats may consider a candidate other than Harrison, who has limited fundraising abilities, and Recchia, who represents a city council district in Brooklyn, where the Congressional district takes in just a small piece. But the party has for several cycles coveted the last remaining Republican seat that touches any part of New York City, and should Fossella vacate the position, he will give them their best chance to date.

Fossella Busted For DUI

The last Republican member of Congress whose district includes any part of New York City was arrested early Thursday morning on suspicion of driving while intoxicated in the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Virginia. Rep. Vito Fossella, whose Thirteenth District includes Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn, will appear in court on May 12 for a hearing.

Fossella's district voted for Al Gore by an eight-point margin in 2000, but in 2004 it gave a ten-point win to President Bush. The seat is heavily ethnic; nearly 30% of the population is of Italian descent. After winning just a 57%-43% margin in 2006 against a Democrat he outspent more than eleven to one, Fossella now finds himself in Democrats' crosshairs.

Steve Harrison, the Democrat who ran in 2006, is making another bid, though national party leaders prefer city councilmember Domenic Recchia. Recchia raised $350,000 through the First Quarter, retaining $325,000 in the bank. Fossella surprised some with a disappointing fundraising quarter, pulling in enough to keep just $248,000 on hand. The incumbent Republican has already spent $615,000 this year, worrying some backers.

Fossella released a statement to some news outlets apologizing for the incident and admitting his error, the Staten Island Advance reported. Whether Democrats use the incident in November, it's not the kind of thing an underfunded incumbent running in what looks like a strong Democratic year needs hanging over his head.