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Parties Trade Barbs Over Special Election

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The debate over the special election in New York's 26th district has turned so sharply to the future this week that it’s easy to forget Republican Rep. Chris Lee resigned just a week ago.

The field is several days away from being finalized and the special election hasn’t yet been scheduled, but the battle in New York’s 26th district is already raging.

The debate has turned so sharply to the future this week that it’s easy to forget Republican Rep. Chris Lee resigned just a week ago. And that’s likely exactly what the GOP wants.

“I believe many people in this community think he shouldn’t have resigned,” Nick Langworthy, the Erie County Republican Committee Chairman and Lee’s former district director, told Roll Call on Wednesday.

“This is a strange turn of events,” Langworthy said of Lee’s abrupt resignation following a blog’s publication of e-mails that the married lawmaker allegedly sent to a woman on Craigslist. “But this community is moving forward.”

Both parties are moving forward as well.

News that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent a key staffer to the western New York district in recent days prompted local Republicans to complain of tampering from Washington. The DCCC fired back that Republicans are likely jealous of Democrats’ recent success in New York special elections.

It’s already getting nasty.

The National Republican Congressional Committee has been in regular contact with county officials on the ground but has yet to send anyone to help in the recruitment effort. That’s not the case on the Democratic side. Republicans took notice that DCCC Northeast Political Director Abby Curran visited the district in the days immediately after Lee’s resignation.

“I think that it speaks volumes when you see that they’re putting the DCCC in on their candidate selection process,” Langworthy said. “Whoever the Democrats pick is going to be the handpicked candidate of the DCCC and Nancy Pelosi. We feel very strongly about local control.”

Informed of Langworthy’s comments, DCCC Chairman Steve Israel told Roll Call that they were “ludicrous.” And in a larger discussion with reporters Wednesday, the New York lawmaker reiterated that local officials are leading the recruitment and selection process for when Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) schedules  the special election. The conventional wisdom now suggests the contest would take place in April, although the governor has offered few hints as to the timing.

“I’ve been in touch with the county chairs ­— they are recruiting candidates,” Israel said. “We will be able to make an assessment in strict consultation and collaboration with the county chairs based on a variety of factors, including who the candidate is, when the election will be. ... Until those factors gel, we can’t make an assessment of whether it’s winnable.”

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