Not only is the deadlocked special election in New York’s 20th district leaving that seat vacant for at least a few more weeks, it is also leaving another House race in upstate New York in limbo.
Here’s why: If state Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco (R) winds up winning the New York special — he was trailing by 25 votes in the unofficial tally at press time Wednesday — he will give up his leadership post in Albany to head to Congress.
The frontrunner to succeed Tedisco as Minority Leader is Assemblyman Brian Kolb (R). In fact, there’s talk of Assembly Republicans looking to replace Tedisco in a matter of days whether he wins the Congressional seat or not.
But if Tedisco loses the House race to Democrat Scott Murphy and manages to hang on as Minority Leader, Kolb may emerge as the leading challenger to freshman Rep. Eric Massa (D) in New York’s 29th district.
In an interview with Roll Call Wednesday, Kolb said the events of the last several weeks — Gov. David Paterson’s (D) decision to appoint then-Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) to a Senate vacancy, Tedisco’s decision to run for her House seat, and runaway budget deficits in state government — have caught him by surprise and forced him to reassess his political future. He said he expects to have a better idea of his plans in the next few days and predicted that Tedisco could step aside as Minority Leader even before the Congressional race is resolved because “I think Jim is confident that he’ll be going to Washington.—
“If it unfolds that I’m the next Minority Leader, then I will not run for Congress next year,— Kolb said. “If for whatever reason I’m not the next Minority Leader, then Congress becomes an option that is front and center in my thinking for 2010.—
Kolb admitted to a longtime ambition to serve in Congress and in fact took steps to launch a Congressional campaign in 2004, when veteran Rep. Amo Houghton (R) announced his retirement. But he dropped out of the race after just a few weeks, paving the way for then-state Sen. Randy Kuhl (R) to win the 29th district seat.
After two difficult terms, Kuhl lost to Massa by 2 points last November.
Despite Massa’s victory, voters in the 29th district, which covers New York’s southern tier and extends north to the Rochester area, preferred Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) over President Barack Obama by 3 points in the presidential election. Massa will be a top GOP target in 2010, and the deadlock in the 20th district fuels Republicans’ optimism about regaining lost territory in the Empire State.
“While our party will naturally face challenges in the Northeast, the yet undecided special election in New York is proof that we can compete in Democrat districts carried by Obama,— said Paul Lindsay, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “Eric Massa has the added burden of being in a district carried by McCain and that should provide a sign of encouragement to the deep bench of qualified candidates who have been mentioned to challenge him.—
While no Republican has stepped forward to take Massa on yet, political operatives in the Empire State and Washington, D.C., say the GOP has several potential quality contenders there. In addition to Kolb, the list includes Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks, state Sens. Cathy Young and George Winner, Assemblyman Tom O’Mara, Chemung County Executive Tom Santulli (who is up for re-election in 2010), Corning Mayor Tom Reed, and attorney Bill Nojay, who briefly competed for the open seat nomination in 2004.
Despite the Republicans’ interpretation of the results, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) said Murphy’s showing in the special election suggests that potentially vulnerable House Democrats in New York like Massa, who are working to improve the economy in the face of GOP opposition are in solid shape. He said voters in New York would opt for someone “who is committed to trying to turn the economy around, not someone who is running on the Bush playbook.—
Massa, who is still organizing his Congressional operation, announced Wednesday that he is opening a third district office in Olean, N.Y., on Saturday.