The local Republican chairmen from the seven upstate New York counties comprising the 26th congressional district, as expected, officially chose Assemblywoman Jane Corwin to be their nominee for the upcoming special election that Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) eventually will call. The seat is vacant due to the scandal-tainted resignation of former Rep. Christopher Lee (R). Democrats have yet to name their consensus candidate.
Under New York election law, the governor has rather wide latitude to schedule special elections, but the vote must occur between 30 and 40 days once the call is made. The time lapse between resignation and scheduling allows the parties to choose their nominees via party caucus rather than a primary vote. Because of this situation only the seven county chairman from each party have any say in the nomination process for this particular election.
Upstate New York is no stranger to recent special congressional elections. Since the 2008 general election, two specials have been held and a third was made concurrent with the regular 2010 election. In early 2009, Democrat Scott Murphy won a 50.1-49.6% victory over Republican Jim Tedisco in the 20th district. Kirsten Gillibrand had vacated the seat to accept an appointment to the U.S. Senate. Murphy then went on to lose the 2010 general election to current Rep. Chris Gibson (R-NY-20) by a rather large 53-44% count.
In late 2009, Democrat Bill Owens, in a race that attracted a great deal of national attention, upset Conservative Doug Hoffman after GOP nominee Dede Scozzafava dropped out of the special race the weekend before the final vote and endorsed her major party opponent. Hoffman, running again on the Conservative Party line in the regular election, siphoned away enough votes to allow Owens to slip past Republican Matt Doheny to win a full term in NY-23. The seat was originally vacated because President Obama appointed GOP Rep. John McHugh as Army Secretary. When Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY-29) resigned in scandal, then-Gov. David Paterson simply refused to hold the special election early because it was clear his party was going to lose the seat. Last November, Corning Mayor Tom Reed easily converted the seat for the GOP.
Now, with Rep. Lee abruptly resigning due to a new scandal, yet another special election will be conducted. The seat should remain safely in Republican hands since the 26th district is one of the few New York congressional districts with a solid GOP history. John McCain defeated Pres. Obama here 52-46%, making the 26th only the fourth of 29 NY seats to so choose the Republican. Former Pres. George W. Bush racked up 55-43% and 51-44% margins here in 2004 and 2000 respectively. Ex-Rep. Tom Reynolds (R) had a close 52-48% call in 2006, but the seat has never fallen to the Democrats. Rep. Lee won 46-34% in 2008, and then posted a huge 68-24% landslide this past November.
With numbers like that, Assemblywoman Corwin should normally be regarded as the big favorite in a special election, but such may not be the case. Once again, a minor party candidate could conceivably tip the balance of power to the eventual Democratic nominee if enough conservative voters fail to support Corwin.
The chances of this happening are less than in the NY-23 melee of last year. Corwin claims the New York State Conservative Party has rated her the second-most conservative member in the Assembly, and she has won the party line in both of her legislative elections. Therefore, it is unlikely that the NYCP will abandon her now, which is the key to the Republicans winning. Under New York election law, candidates can gain votes from multiple party ballot lines.
Though certain Tea Party groups expressed displeasure with the Corwin selection, it will be difficult for them to qualify a candidate for the special election ballot because none of the Tea Party organizations are officially recognized New York political parties. Since the Green Party gubernatorial candidate did attract more than 50,000 votes in the last general election, however, they will qualify for an official ballot line now and in 2012. This could cause trouble for some future Democratic nominees if they are not sufficiently liberal on environmental issues.
Once the Democrats have a nominee, Gov. Cuomo will call the election and Ms. Corwin will likely win. At that point, she will immediately be forced to worry about redistricting, as the state loses two seats in apportionment and it is unclear which four of the existing 29 members will be paired against each other.
Our rating of the early NY-26 special election is “Likely Republican.”
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