Gizzi on Politics June 15, 2009

After McHugh, Down to Two?  

With Obama’s surprise appointment of Rep. John McHugh (R.-N.Y.) to be secretary of the Army last week, the question immediately on the minds of New York State Republicans was: “Will we be down to two congressmen here instead of three?”

After two devastating election cycles in the Empire State, the ranks of its GOP House delegation have been thinned to only three House members out of 29. Earlier this year, Republican hopes of recapturing the 20th District House seat of Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand were dashed, as Republican Jim Tedisco lost the first special U.S. House election of the Obama administration to Democrat Scott Murphy.

With McHugh’s resigning the seat he has held with ease since 1992, the upstate-based, historically Republican 23rd District will be in play and a special election will be held sometime this year. On paper, the 23rd is Republican: GOPers have a 47,000-voter edge in registration over Democrats. But they also had a similar registration edge in the 20th District and Barack Obama captured both districts in ’08.   

In addition, Democrats won the last special election for state senate right in this district when Republican incumbent Jim Wright resigned to take a high-paying private sector job. The winner of that special election, State Sen. Darrell Aubertine, is now the most oft-mentioned Democratic candidate for the upcoming special election to succeed McHugh. Also mentioned is another Democratic state senator from the 23rd, David Valesky.

One former Republican state legislator told me that his party is in stronger shape here than it was in the race for the Gillibrand seat “because the media market is very inexpensive.” Perhaps, but with Democrats still leading Republicans in fund-raising at the state and national levels, it is almost a foregone conclusion that the Democratic nominee will have all the money he needs.  

The name on most Republican lips at this point is that of Robert Traub, McHugh’s chief of staff and a centrist Republican like his boss (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 74%). Another GOPer being mentioned is businessman Matt Doheny, a Cornell Law School graduate. Easily the most controversial Republican prospect is State Assemblywoman Diedre Scozzafava, whose move to the left on cultural issues has infuriated many conservative activists.  

“She might even have trouble getting the Conservative Party line,” retired New York City detective Jim Kelly, an activist in the party and resident of Wilmington in the 23rd told me. Since the 1960s, getting extra votes on the Conservative Party ballot line has been critical to the election of Republicans in New York State. (Kelly specifically cited Scozzafava’s signing of the pro-choice pledge of the National Organization for Women and her signing onto gay marriage legislation.)

Based on history and numbers, Republicans have a good chance of retaining the 23rd District. But based on recent history in congressional races and the condition of Republicanism in New York, it may be a case of after McHugh, down to two.  

Team Christie

For the first time in New Jersey history, there will be candidates for a newly created office of lieutenant governor on the ballot this year. The now-nominated ’09 candidates for governor have to name their running mates within 30 days.  

For conservatives, Republican nominee Chris Christie’s choice takes on special meaning. Long considered more of a centrist GOPer, former U.S. Attorney Christie nonetheless ran on conservative themes in the recent primary: pro-life (like George W. Bush, opposing abortion except in cases of rape, incest, and the life of a mother), for tax cuts, opposing government benefits for illegal immigrants, and defining marriage as a union between man and woman. Mitt Romney and fellow New Jerseyan Steve Forbes weighed in for Christie in his rock ’em, sock ’em June 2 primary contest against former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonergan conservative swashbuckler (who drew 42% of the vote running on a platform of opposition to all abortion, slashing more than 10,000 employees from the state payroll, and a initiating a flat tax).  

“Chris won by adopting much of our platform,” said Lonergan campaign consultant Rick Shaftan, who added: “His choice of a running mate will say a lot about him and whether conservatives work hard for him against [Democratic Gov. Jon] Corzine.”  

Among conservatives, most talk about lieutenant governor candidates focuses on Assemblywoman Alison Littell McHose, onetime aide to Lynne Cheney at the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Monmouth County Sheriff Kim Guadagno, who has a following for her tough “law and order” positions. The 44-year-old McHose, daughter of former State Sen. Robert Littel and onetime State GOP Chairman Virginia Newman Littel, won the Sussex County assembly district after incumbent and fellow conservative Scott Garrett was elected to Congress in 2002.  

Read the rest of this week’s Gizzi On Politics here.