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Turner Win a Boon for GOP Lines

The reverberations from Rep.-elect Bob Turner’s upset victory Tuesday in New York may well be felt far beyond Queens and Brooklyn.

With the Empire State losing two districts in reapportionment, the Republican’s win scraps the conventional wisdom that a split-control state Legislature would eliminate a GOP-held district upstate and the Democratic 9th district in New York City.

Assemblyman David Weprin’s (D) loss to Turner has Democrats cautiously recalculating how the redistricting process will play out.

“Yesterday’s election could result in a complete game change,” said a Democrat with knowledge of the state’s redistricting process. “What we don’t know yet is whether Republicans will look to protect their newly won district in New York City.”

A senior aide to a New York Democratic Member echoed that theme, asserting that Turner’s win could be a negative factor for all Democrats in the delegation. The aide noted that it could be particularly damaging for Democrats upstate.

Democrats have a majority in the New York Assembly, but Republicans control the state Senate.

“Some of the buzz last night was that you could end up seeing the Hochul and Higgins seats combined,” one upstate GOP operative said Wednesday, referring to Democratic Reps. Kathy Hochul and Brian Higgins. Both represent portions of western New York, which experienced population loss between 2000 and 2010, according to the Census Bureau.

“The big winners last night are the upstate GOP Congressional delegation,” the operative said, noting that those Members — all of whom are freshmen — could see their districts strengthened.

An upstate Democratic consultant agreed.

“I think if you’re Kathy Hochul, you’re a little more nervous today; if you’re an upstate Republican Congressional Member, you’re feeling a little bit better about life,” the Democrat said.

Hochul, who won a contentious May special election in a Republican-leaning seat, currently represents a district that voted 52 percent for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008.

“Congresswoman Hochul’s only focus is doing what’s best for the people of the 26th District,” Communications Director Fabien Levy said in a statement. “The last thing she’s going to direct any attention towards is how some district lines may be drawn up months from now.”

Another factor in play is whether Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D), who represents the Binghamton-anchored 22nd district, runs for re-election. Hinchey is battling cancer, but he is back at work and will definitely seek another term, his office said.

A New York Republican aide said freshman GOP Reps. Richard Hanna and Ann Marie Buerkle are on better footing after Tuesday.

“They were the two that were on the chopping block, and they were the two that benefited the most from Turner’s win in the state,” the aide said.

The senior aide to an Empire State Democrat said that no Member is completely safe at this point because so much remains undecided.

Plugged-in New York politicos said the effect redistricting will have on the Big Apple is particularly opaque, but speculation about potential outcomes has already begun.

Conservative Brooklyn portions of the 9th district might be added to freshman Rep. Michael Grimm’s (R) Staten Island-based district, the upstate GOP operative said. McCain carried Grimm’s district by only 2 points in 2008, so the idea would be to make the seat safer for Republicans.

If the 9th ends up being divvied up among other New York City Members, it’s unclear who Turner would face in 2012.

One source floated the possibility that he might be drawn into Democratic Rep. Gary Ackerman’s district, but the 15-term Congressman didn’t seem too concerned.

“There are about 18 of us that they could put him in with,” he said in an interview. “I’ve won about 23 elections in a row.”

Beyond Ackerman, the Turner win may change the internal calculation of just how safe Democratic Members consider themselves.

Rachel McEneny, a former adviser to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), said Democrats are likely to have more of a vested interest in how the lines are drawn this time — and how strongly Democratic their districts are — considering Turner’s victory.

“In other years, we’ve been able to use the excuse that we’re such a blue state that it hasn’t been a factor,” said McEneny, whose father, Assemblyman Jack McEneny, is the chairman of redistricting for the New York State Assembly. McEneny said she hadn’t talked with her father about redistricting between the special election and speaking to Roll Call.

“There are lots of intangibles at play now: health, age, seniority. We don’t know what will factor into” the final decision of the Legislature, said McEneny, who now works at a government affairs firm.

Ultimately, the upstate Democratic consultant noted, “it might all be a moot point if the governor just says … ‘I’m going to allow the courts to decide this.'”

But whatever happens, Ackerman said he isn’t sweating the details.

“They have to pick two seats [to eliminate], and they’ll pick two seats, probably one upstate and one downstate,” he said. “I’m a Member of Congress running for re-election in whatever the best district they draw for me. Been there, done that — doing it again.”

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