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DCCC Chairman Looks to Locals for N.Y. Special Election

The leader of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee isn’t optimistic about Democrats’ chances in New York’s 26th district, where local officials are preparing for a special election to fill the vacancy created by the abrupt resignation of Rep. Chris Lee (R) earlier in the week.

“It is a very difficult district,” DCCC Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) told Roll Call on Friday, offering his first public comments on the situation. But “it’s a Republican seat that Republicans must defend.”

Lee resigned Wednesday night shortly after the website Gawker posted e-mails from a man who used Lee’s name but identified himself as a divorced lobbyist. Gawker also posted a shirtless image of the Congressman that was allegedly included in the exchange. 

Since then, Israel said, he hasn’t done any recruiting personally in the western New York district but has participated in conference calls with local county Democratic Party chairmen who are vetting candidates.

The numbers, which Israel ticked off from the top of his head, don’t look good for Democrats.

President Barack Obama earned 46 percent of the vote there in 2008. And Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) did worse in 2004, receiving just 43 percent. 

“It’s Paladino’s district,” Israel said of Carl Paladino (R), who caught fire with the tea party movement last fall but ultimately fell to now-Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in the gubernatorial general election. “Were there to be a Democrat in that district, it would be the ninth-worst Democratic district in the country.”

It’s unclear when a special election might take place.

New York election law gives Cuomo wide latitude in deciding whether and when to call a special election in the district, which now becomes a likely target for elimination through the reapportionment process. New York is slated to lose two Congressional seats this year.

A special election would be held within 30 days of Cuomo formally declaring a vacancy. Former Gov. David Paterson (D) showed a willingness to delay the process for political and practical reasons.

Israel, who has helped Democrats in New York special elections on the DCCC’s behalf in the past, said the committee would largely cede recruitment efforts to local officials.

“The county chairs drove the process [in the past], and we’ll respect that model,” he said.