ALBANY – An empty seat and swing districts loom large as Republicans and Democrats look to pick up House seats in New York this year.
Eight months before the general election, a half-dozen or more of the state’s 27 seats show signs they could become spirited races. Key challenges are shaping up across the state, from the eastern Long Island district of Democrat Rep. Timothy Bishop to the Southern Tier, where Republican Rep. Tom Reed is seeking a third term.
“New York is going to be a pivot point for us nationally because it presents significant opportunity,” said Rep. Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee who represents Long Island.
Nationwide, the GOP expects to hold its House majority.
Two of New York’s 27 House members are retiring: Democrats Carolyn McCarthy on Long Island and Bill Owens in northern New York. Owens – with help from fractured opposition – in 2009 became the only Democrat to win a seat in the state’s northernmost district in generations. Republicans hope to keep it that way.
Elise Stefanik, who worked for President George W. Bush’s administration, has been raising money and building support among GOP officials around the 21st District and beyond since last year. Also running is Matt Doheny, a businessman who lost two consecutive close races to Owens.
Democratic leaders are backing Aaron Woolf, a documentary maker.
“We see some very real opportunities there all across one end of the state to the other frankly, especially in an off-presidential year and the openings that have occurred in places like New York-21,” said Rep. Greg Walden, chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee.
Republicans also are focusing again on Bishop, whose 2012 re-election race was a magnet for outside group spending. A local businessman failed twice to unseat Bishop. This time, many establishment party members are backing State Sen. Lee Zeldin, who is in a lively contest with fellow Republican George Demos.
Democrats have hopes of unseating two Republicans recently dogged by bad publicity: Michael Grimm on Staten Island and Tom Reed of the Southern Tier.
Grimm won re-election in 2012 amid an FBI investigation into campaign finances related to his first race. In January, Grimm reacted to a reporter’s question about the long-running probe by threatening to throw him off a Capitol balcony; he later apologized. Grimm has denied knowledge of any improprieties, and the FBI hasn’t accused him of any wrongdoing.
Democrats are backing former Domenic Recchia, a former New York City Council member.
In the Southern Tier, Democrats took note in 2012 after Reed’s closer-than-expected win against Nate Shinagawa, a little-known candidate. Reed has endured negative press since then, including a report in The Buffalo News last summer that he was late paying taxes on his personal and business properties 38 times since 2005. Reed told The News that he has been involved in many investment properties and he was meeting all obligations.
Martha Robertson, a county legislator, is challenging Reed. Republicans have made their own complaints against her, revolving around a fundraising plea that claimed Republicans were trying to shut down her website. Her campaign has claimed the Republican complaint is an attempt to divert attention from Reed’s issues.
In general, expect to hear Republicans hammer Democrats over the health care law and Democrats to cast their opponents as too right wing for their districts.
Here’s a look at some other New York congressional races:
• NY-13 – Rep. Charles Rangel was first elected to Congress in 1970 and has become an institution in New York City politics. But at age 83 and with a 2010 House censure for financial wrongdoing behind him, some believe it’s time for Rangel to leave the stage. State Sen. Adriano Espaillat is mounting a second primary challenge to Rangel two years after losing in a squeaker. Rev. Michael Walrond of Harlem also announced a run.
• NY-18 – Democrat Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of the Hudson Valley unseated Republican first-termer Nan Hayworth in this heavily suburban swing district in 2012. Now she is trying to do the same to him.
• NY-19 – Two-term Republican Rep. Chris Gibson faces a wealthy Democratic challenger in Sean Eldridge, who is married to Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes. Eldridge and Hughes bought a house in the district in early 2013, and he has been active around the sprawling eastern New York district since then. Republicans label Eldridge a rich carpetbagger. Democrats claim Gibson is more conservative than his constituents.
• NY-24 – In a Syracuse-area swing district, Democratic Rep. Dan Maffei is defending a seat he retook in 2012 after narrowly losing two years before. The Republican designee is John Katko, a former federal prosecutor.