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Reynolds Departure Leaves Republican Field Unsettled

Rep. Tom Reynolds’ (R-N.Y.) announcement last week that he would not run for re-election in November has set off a scramble among Republicans to replace him.

As news of Reynolds’ retirement spread Thursday, state Sen. George Maziarz quickly emerged as the party’s top candidate to succeed the 57-year-old Congressman.

Maziarz is expected to decide soon about the race; an announcement could come as early as this week.

If Maziarz jumps in, it is likely that party leaders — including Reynolds — will try to clear the field for him in the western New York district reaches from suburban Buffalo to suburban Rochester.

Maziarz, whose state Senate district closely mirrors the 26th district, attended Reynolds’ retirement announcement at the Main-Transit Fire Hall in Amherst.

Still, it is far from certain that the party will be able to move others out of the way for Maziarz, if he decides to run.

A long list of other potential candidates — with varying interest in the race — were mentioned last week.

Aside from Maziarz, the top possibilities mentioned were state Assemblyman Jim Hayes and former state Assembly Minority Leader Charles Nesbitt.

Hayes, the ranking member of the state Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee, acknowledged his interest in seeking the seat, according to media reports last week.

He has been under pressure from the party to run for an open state Senate seat this fall but has stood firm on his plans to seek re-election. Republicans hold a 32-30 seat majority in the state Senate, and Democrats are on the march to sweep control of the chamber this fall. The fragility of the GOP’s Senate majority will also no doubt factor into Maziarz’s decision about seeking Reynolds seat.

Other Republican names floated last week included Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks, attorney Michael Powers and Nick Sinatra, who is the Northeast political director at the White House.

Sinatra’s family owns a restaurant in Buffalo, N.Y.

Brooks has been mentioned as a possible candidate for other seats, including the neighboring 25th district seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Jim Walsh (R). But GOP insiders believe she is holding out for an opportunity to run in the 29th district occupied by Rep. Randy Kuhl (R).

In announcing his retirement, Reynolds — a former two-term National Republican Congressional Committee chairman — expressed confidence that the GOP will hold he seat.

Republicans hold about a 10-point registration advantage in the district, but independents make up about a quarter of the electorate. President Bush won 55 percent to Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) 43 percent in the 2004 presidential race there.

Republican insiders argue that the seat might look more competitive than it really is because of Reynolds’ near loss in 2006, when he was damaged by his connection to the House page scandal involving former Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.). As the Foley story unfolded, it was revealed that Reynolds, then head of the NRCC, had some knowledge of Foley’s inappropriate interaction with pages and had warned then-Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) about the situation earlier in the year.

However, the once reliably Republican territory in western New York has tilted more Democratic in recent years. Democrats picked up a seat vacated by retiring Rep. Jack Quinn (R) in 2004, and in 2006 they made inroads to the east by picking up the 20th and 24th districts.

Few new Democratic names surfaced in the wake of Reynolds’ announcement.

The party’s top contender is Jon Powers, an Iraq War veteran and teacher with an inspiring life story. Powers has the backing of five of the seven Democratic committees in the district as well as some institutional support from national Democratic-leaning interest groups.

Wealthy factory owner Jack Davis, the Democratic nominee against Reynolds in 2004 and 2006, appears poised to enter the race but has not said definitively that he will run. He said recently that if he does, he plans to put $3 million of his own money into the race.

Attorney Alice Kryzan also is seeking the Democratic nomination.

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