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Blog Home Page --> House -- New York -- 25

Parties Even In Walsh Seat

Despite starting late and facing a well-known challenger, a top Republican candidate in New York's Twenty-Fifth District is polling even, giving his party reason to hope that retiring Rep. Jim Walsh's seat isn't as good as gone just yet. The poll, released on Wednesday, came out the day before the Onondaga County GOP chose Dale Sweetland for the party endorsement.

Taken between 4/26-27 on Sweetland's behalf by Maxwell School Professor Jeff Stonecash, the survey quizzed 405 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Sweetland, the former Onondaga County Legislature chair, and 2006 Democratic nominee Dan Maffei were tested.

General Election Matchup
Maffei 37
Sweetland 36

Neither candidate is particularly well-known; just 28% rated Maffei favorably to 27% for Sweetland, and only 8% viewed the Democrat unfavorably, while 9% said they didn't favor the Republican candidate. Sweetland still has to get by Assemblyman Bob Oaks, a local official and a Ron Paul organizer to win the GOP line, while Maffei has avoided any serious challengers for the Democratic nomination.

The district, centered around Syracuse and Palmyra in upstate New York, narrowly re-elected Walsh over Maffei, giving the incumbent Republican just 3,000 more votes than the upstart challenger. This year, with the presidential contest expected to boost Democratic turnout still further, Maffei starts the race as the front-runner -- Walsh was one of just a handful of Republicans who represents a district that never voted for President Bush.

The Republican candidates have yet to file reports with the FEC, though Oaks says he will soon break the six-figure mark. Through the First Quarter, Maffei had raised $853,000 and kept $675,000 in the bank.

GOP Loses 2 NY Recruits

Though retiring Republican incumbents hold two western New York seats near Syracuse and the Canadian border, the party is having a difficult time coming up with top-notch candidates to hold the seats. In the past day alone, two top recruits have told the Washington GOP establishment that they will not be seeking their party's nomination to replace Reps. Tom Reynolds and Jim Walsh, while Democrats have largely settled on their candidates.

Walsh's Twenty-Fifth District, based around Syracuse, looks like one of the best pickup opportunities Democrats have in the Northeast. Former Congressional aide Dan Maffei, a Democrat who came just 3,000 votes from beating Walsh in 2006, is running again and has raised an impressive amount of money. Yesterday, Maffei's chances got a little better as top Republican challenger Peter Cappuccilli said he would not make a bid due to health concerns.

Cappuccilli, the former director of the New York State Fair, was warned by doctors that his health could seriously deteriorate and that he might have had something like a mini-stroke, the Syracuse Post-Standard reported late last night. Cappuccilli is currently visiting family and undergoing tests at a hospital in Florida, and his campaign says it plans to return all donations. The decision came just two weeks after another Republican, Randy Wolken, dropped out to unite the party around Cappuccilli, as we wrote yesterday.

In Reynolds' Twenty-Sixth District, GOP State Senator George Maziarz told the Niagara Falls Reporter that he will not run for the seat. Widely described as a Reynolds acolyte, Maziarz was on stage with the incumbent when he announced his retirement, and Maziarz's strong fundraising ability and political base base -- most of his Senate district is within Reynolds' Congressional district -- made him the early front-runner. In fact, strategists told the Falls Reporter that Maziarz would have had a better chance winning the district than Reynolds would have had in keeping it.

The surprise decision shifts focus to Assemblyman Jim Hayes and Nick Sinatra, the White House assistant political director, as well as an army veteran who won a Silver Star in Iraq and a lawyer from Buffalo. It also opens the door for Erie County Clerk Kathy Hochul, who would enter the race as the only Democrat to have won an election. Current candidates Jonathan Powers, an Iraq war veteran, and Jack Davis, the party's nominee in 2004 and 2006, have no electoral victories to their names. Hochul's entry into the race would give Democrats a seriously improved chance at winning the seat.

The withdrawals from two prominent Republicans are big blows to a party already rocked by an unforgiving landscape. With just six seats out of New York's 29-member delegation, for Republicans to be in serious danger of losing two more is nothing short of a disaster. National Democrats are high on recruits challenging Reps. Randy Kuhl, also from upstate, Long Island's Peter King and Staten Island's Vito Fossella, but the GOP incumbents remain strong.

Of the five seats, only Kuhl's and Walsh's voted twice for President Bush, while Fossella's and King's favored Al Gore in 2000 and Bush in 2004. If and when the downstate incumbents retire, Democrats will have a strong chance at picking up two more seats. Upstate Rep. John McHugh is the only Republican in the state who has yet to face a serious challenge.

Dems Lead NY Open Seat

Dan Maffei, the former Congressional aide who came within a whisker of beating Republican Rep. Jim Walsh in 2006, is the early and significant front-runner in his second bid for office, a new poll conducted for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee shows. The news has been nothing but good for Maffei lately: Walsh announced his retirement in late January, and local and national Democrats cleared the field for their candidate.

In November, Maffei is likely to face Republican Peter Cappuccilli, a businessman who once ran the New York State Fair. The survey, conducted 2/16-20 by the Global Strategies Group, polled 200 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 7%. Maffei, Cappuccilli and Randy Wolken, who ended his bid two weeks ago, were tested.

General Election Matchup
Maffei 41
Cappuccilli 29

Maffei 41
Wolken 25

The poll, with such a small sample size, should be taken with a grain of salt, as Cappuccilli is technically within the margin of error. And Maffei's underwhelming 41% should be higher, given that he won 49% in 2006 in a district both John Kerry and Al Gore won. But the survey shows a Democrat with a big lead in an open seat race, which is national Republicans' nightmare scenario. If the party has to defend many more of its two dozen-plus open seats, 2008 will be a very bad year for the GOP.

Early Advantage For Maffei

New York's 25th district was a top target for Democrats even before Rep. Jim Walsh announced his retirement in January. Since winning the seat in 1988, Walsh faced his first serious challenge in 2006 against Democrat Dan Maffei, and barely survived with a 50.8%-49.2% victory. He was one of only eight Republican Congressmen to win a district carried by Kerry.

Maffei is running again this year, and is unopposed in the Democratic primary. Rumors of a possible primary challenge by Syracuse Mayor Matthew Driscoll were ended recently when Driscoll announced he planned to serve out the remainder of his mayoral term, through 2009. On top of the fact that this year Maffei will not face a sitting incumbent spending twice as much as him, he should also benefit from a more-publicized struggling economy.

While a handful of Republicans have announced or are seriously considering a run for the nomination, former New York State Fair Director Peter Cappuccilli and Randy Wolken, president of the Manufacturers Association of Central New York, are the early frontrunners. Cappuccilli, who announced his candidacy last month, is somewhat well-known in Syracuse's Onondaga County, where the annual State Fair takes place.

While Cappuccilli will likely base his campaign on his experience with local issues, Wolken will likely highlight his military and business background. Wolken, whose support will also be based in Onondaga County, said in his announcement speech, "I believe I have the breadth of experience that other people will have a tough time matching."

Maffei's campaign manager Dan Krupnick told Politics Nation that their campaign does not regard either Republican candidate as the frontrunner. Krupnick said Maffei will try to build on his support in the 2006 election in which he won Onondaga and Monroe counties, and the city of Syracuse 60%-40%, but lost Wayne and Northern Cayuga by enough points to evaporate his lead elsewhere.

The district runs from Syracuse to the northern suburbs of Rochester and is primarily composed of 4 major counties: Onondaga (Syracuse), Wayne (Rochester), Cayuga and Monroe. The 25th leans slightly Democratic giving Al Gore 51% and John Kerry 50% of the vote.

The Republicans' late entries to the race put them at a steep financial disadvantage to Maffei who after announcing his candidacy in April has raised a little over $520,000 with $440,000 on hand.

--Greg Bobrinskoy

Another Surprise Retirement

Dealing another body blow to House Republicans, ten-term Rep. Jim Walsh is likely to announce his retirement shortly, sources tell Politico's Patrick O'Connor. Walsh, who represents part of upstate New York, follows more than a dozen other veteran incumbents out the door, many of whom opened swing seats ripe for Democratic takeovers.

After nine easy elections, when Walsh coasted to victory, his was one of five seats in which Democrats over-performed in the Empire State. Congressional aide Dan Maffei, who had served New York icons Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Charlie Rangel, came back to his home town and, despite being out-spent two to one, came close to winning. It took more than a week for Maffei to concede; he lost by just over 3,000 votes. Still, before last year, Walsh had never seen an opponent come within ten points.

An unflashy moderate, Walsh has concentrated on his post on the Appropriations Committee, where he ranks sixth among Republicans in seniority and serves as ranking member of the Labor, HHS and Education subcommittee, after having served as chair of four other subcommittees. Before Congress, he served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal and as a social worker.

The district spans from Syracuse and Onondaga County, west to the Rochester suburbs. While traditionally Republican, largely to send someone to Albany to balance out Democrats in New York City, it has recently trended Democratic on a federal level. Both Al Gore and John Kerry beat President Bush there, one of just a few seats Republicans hold that their presidential nominee lost.

Maffei began his bid for a rematch on a tear. He had raised more than $340,000 through September 30, and he retained about $315,000 in the bank. Walsh had more than $450,000 in the bank after September, but this year the fundraising gap would have been much smaller.

The open seat is exactly what Rep. Tom Cole and the NRCC don't need. In 2006, no region proved more difficult for Republicans, and more fertile for Democrats, than the Northeast. In New York, Democrats beat longtime incumbent Republcians Sue Kelly and John Sweeney, stole a seat left open by retiring Republican Sherwood Boehlert and came close to beating Walsh, Tom Reynolds and Randy Kuhl.

The GOP lost every statewide election in 2006, and the party holds on to the State Senate by a whisker. Upstate has shifted inexorably toward Democrats, who will also eventually make strong challenges for seats held by Long Island Rep. Peter King and Staten Island Rep. Vito Fossella. After 2006, just six of the twenty nine members of Congress representing New York are Republicans. If Walsh's retirement is any guide, 2008 could shrink that number even farther. It's hard to imagine after last year, but New York Republicans could discover they have yet to reach the bottom.