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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.

Israel downplayed expectations, noting that both Democratic presidential candidates in 2008 and 2004 lost in the right-leaning district.

To say that Republicans are confident is an understatement.

“We have several outstanding candidates who have a wide range of backgrounds and experience that will resonate with western New York voters. Compare that to the Democrat field that looks more like amateur hour than anything else,” one Republican campaign aide said.

County GOP chairmen are interviewing prospective candidates and will vote for a single Republican nominee as early as Monday. Their crowded field includes state Assemblywoman Jane Corwin, the presumed frontrunner on the Republican side, and Jack Davis, a former Democratic Congressional candidate who switched parties last year after becoming a Lee supporter.

“I believe him to be a Republican in good standing, but he’s got to make the case to my six colleagues,” Langworthy said of Davis.

On the Democratic side, Erie County Clerk Kathy Hochul has emerged as the most likely to win the nod from the Democratic county chairmen. A lawyer and wife of a U.S. attorney, Hochul previously worked as a legislative assistant for former Sen. Patrick Moynihan (D) and former Rep. John LaFalce (D).

Other Democrats mentioned as possible contenders include Kathy Konst, a former state lawmaker and Erie County commissioner; Mark Poloncarz, the Erie County comptroller; and Mark Manna, a member of the Amherst Town Board.

State Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs said county leaders would meet in the next week or two to finish the interview process, although he has yet to set a deadline for the final vote. Jacobs, like Israel, has realistic expectations in the special election.

“Let’s face it. This is one of the toughest Congressional seats in the country for a Democrat,” he said. “I wouldn’t go into the race with any grand expectations at the moment, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t take a very close, hard look at it.”

Democrats’ best hope might be that Republicans hurt themselves. Republican missteps in New York’s 20th and 23rd districts ­— both GOP-friendly territory — ultimately benefited Democrats in recent special elections.

Just don’t expect local Democrats to use Lee’s personal problems to their advantage.

“That may be how our friends in the other party do business,” Jacobs said. “I think that it’s not going to be the focus. Our focus will be creating jobs, things that are important to the people. That’s where the race needs to be. ... The fact that a political career ended the way it did is just sad. It’s unfortunate.”

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