Since I have done some organizing in Western New York (primarily in the Rochester area), a lot of my friends in Virginia have asked for my reaction to the scandal surrounding Rep. Chris Lee. The biggest thing they want to know is if the NY-26 seat is one that Democrats could win in a special election. Based upon the numbers I’ve seen and my experience in the area, I believe it’s unlikely that we’ll pick up the seat, but it can be done if we have a candidate who runs a really good campaign.
First, a little bit about the district. It covers some of the Northeastern suburbs of Buffalo and western suburbs of Rochester and has performed relatively solidly for Republicans in recent years. John McCain received 52% of the vote here and Carl Paladino even won the district (though it should be noted that he’s from Buffalo). With that being said, Democrats have done well in the districts immediately surrounding the 26th. Before he resigned, for instance, Eric Massa represented the neighboring 29th District (which is where I lived) and Louis Slaughter (who chaired the House Rules Committee from 2007 to 2011 and represents the neighboring 28th) has been in Congress since 1987.
It’s also a little unclear how successful either party will be in recruiting a successful candidate for the seat for several reasons. The obvious reason for this is that New York will be losing seats in the House of Representatives this year due to the census results and this is one of the districts that will essentially be lost. This likely means that whoever runs for this seat will likely only be in the House for one term, which makes the seat less appealing for many top tier candidates.
Another interesting aspect of this race is the timing because Rochester’s in the middle of a special election for the mayor’s office. Although the city of Rochester isn’t in the district, it’s right next door and a lot of progressive activists and leaders from the Democratic Party in the district are involved in the process of electing a replacement for former mayor Bob Duffy (he was elected Lt. Governor in November). This means that it could be somewhat difficult for a Democrat to get the attention of a lot of activists that are needed during a special election – especially since a lot of the national media has already been dismissing the chances of Democrats to win this seat.
What is perhaps the most damaging for Democrats is that there isn’t anyone really jumping at the chance to run. The Republicans, however, have a long list of people who have already served in office at the local level who would be willing to step up to the plate. Since a special election would force a candidate to quickly gain name recognition and put a good campaign together, it isn’t a good sign that there aren’t really any Democrats anxious to get into the race.
When you combine the solid GOP results with the fact that there isn’t a superb Democratic candidate ready to enter the race, I would rate this as a “Likely Republican” seat.