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Tea Party Groups Angered by GOP’s Choice for N.Y. Special Election

New York state Assemblywoman Jane Corwin was chosen Monday to be the GOP’s representative in the special election to replace Rep. Chris Lee (R) in the Empire State’s 26th district.

The nomination of the establishment favorite, while celebrated by local Republican officials Monday night, drew an ominous warning from western New York tea party activists who immediately vowed to pursue a third-party candidate.

Corwin, who has a business background and the resources to fund her own campaign, was formally nominated in a Monday night meeting of the seven GOP county chairs in the district Lee represented until earlier in the month. He abruptly resigned after a blog published e-mails that the married lawmaker allegedly sent to a woman on Craigslist.

Under normal circumstances, Corwin would have become the instant favorite in a district that strongly favors Republicans. But local tea party activists’ pledge to rally behind a third-party candidate could change the race dramatically.

All last week, Democrats had downplayed expectations in the region that is home to unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, the tea party favorite who won in the 26th district last November but was otherwise blown out in the governor’s race. Late last week, Paladino threw his support behind Corwin.

And while Paladino’s support seemed to have ensured tea party cooperation at the time, there were signs even before Monday night’s vote that the local conservative base was not on board with Corwin’s selection. The situation is starting to look eerily similar to what happened in the 2009 special election in New York’s 23rd district, where a three-way race that divided the Republican vote ultimately handed the seat to Democratic Rep. Bill Owens.

History could repeat itself this spring.

Tea party activists from western New York issued a statement over the weekend urging the local Republican chairmen to delay Monday’s vote. Conventional wisdom suggests the special election isn’t until April, although Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has yet to formally declare Lee’s seat vacant. Once he does, the election would be held 30 to 40 days later.

“There is no reason to be in such a hurry to push a candidate. From the very beginning and within hours the Republicans circled the wagons around Jane Corwin. Why? It has been stated over and over again that she can fund her own campaign, but there are others that are in the same position,” said the statement issued by TEA New York. “By acting so hastily the Republicans are risking the possibility of a third party candidate entering the race. The talk of a third party line has been heard far and wide. We need to slow down before this turns into a bidding war.”

The activists wanted the chairmen to wait until they could host a candidate forum in early March to include several candidates, including their believed favorite, Iraqi war veteran David Bellavia.

The western New York tea party organization reacted swiftly and sharply Monday night immediately after Corwin’s selection had been finalized: “How sad, the GOP leaders stuck their finger high in the air and told the TEA Party to stick it,” said an updated statement posted on the group’s website Monday night. “The[y] have endorsed Corwin, they have now set their own table and invited a third party candidate to challenge them for this Congressional seat.”

Republicans in Washington are nervous but confident that local conservatives will ultimately rally behind Corwin given Paladino’s support. Further, the Conservative Party, which could select another candidate for its line on the ballot, has backed Corwin in previous elections.

But New York’s complicated election laws allow the tea party to seek a separate line on the ballot should they choose to. Specifically, the group would have to collect 3,200 signatures from 26th district residents in the 12 days after the governor formally calls for a special election, according to Republican officials monitoring the situation.

The National Republican Congressional Committee issued a statement lauding Corwin as a “strong conservative candidate” and promoting her as an outsider. “She understands that the best ideas come from outside Washington and so do the best candidates,” NRCC spokeswoman Andrea Bozek said.

In her own statement, Corwin offered a campaign platform that might make the tea party happy. She said she understands the need to “slash federal spending, balance the budget, end the bailouts, take leftover money from the Obama stimulus package to pay down the deficit and support repealing Obamacare.”

Should Democrats luck into a three-way race, however, they’d need a viable candidate.

Local Democratic chairmen are expected to identify a candidate in the next “week or two,” state Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs told Roll Call last week.

Erie County Clerk Kathy Hochul has emerged as the most likely to win the nod from the Democratic county chairmen. A lawyer and wife of a U.S. attorney, Hochul previously worked as a legislative assistant for former Sen. Patrick Moynihan (D) and former Rep. John LaFalce (D).

Other Democrats mentioned as possible contenders include Kathy Konst, a former state lawmaker and Erie County commissioner; Mark Poloncarz, the Erie County comptroller; and Mark Manna, a member of the Amherst Town Board.

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