Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (left) isnt facing a competitive race this cycle, but his job will be focusing on protecting vulnerable incumbents such as Rep. Tim Bishop.
It could all be a wash.
For almost a year, New York Members, their staffs and national political leaders worried, lobbied and kvetched about the deadlocked Congressional redistricting process in the New York Legislature. It was for naught: A federal court, frustrated with the endless delay in the once-a-decade process of redrawing federal lines, stepped in and created its own map, now ensconced in law.
That map presents significant opportunities for both parties and is almost certain to lead to at least a few Members losing their seats. But, privately, New York Republicans and Democrats admit that the nonpartisan map means each party could win as many seats as it loses this cycle. Given the massive Republican gains in the state — the GOP picked up six seats in 2010 — a wash would significantly help the party hold the House majority.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, led by New York Rep. Steve Israel, has noted that there are no truly safe Republican seats anymore in the Empire State. That’s true, and in a wave election, Democrats could gain a bonanza of districts in a state that is fundamentally a Democratic stronghold. But a wave election favoring Democrats doesn’t appear likely this cycle. Also helping to counteract the Democratic nature of the state in competitive races: Former New York Gov. George Pataki (R) has launched a super PAC dedicated to supporting the state’s Republicans running for the House.
If there’s a slight lean to the overall House outlook in New York, it’s probably in Democrats’ favor, with a possible net gain of one seat.
Shifts in national population mean New York lost two seats; eliminated in redistricting were the seats of retiring Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D) and Rep. Bob Turner (R), who is running a quixotic Senate bid.
There are also a handful of primaries to watch — many of which have room to evolve before the late June election.
Regardless of how the larger national dynamics play out, there will be a lot of competitive races to watch in the Empire State, from Binghamton to the Big Apple.
1st district Incumbent: Tim Bishop (D) 5th term (50 percent) Rating: Leans Democratic
Encompassing the eastern end of Long Island, this is a true tossup district — voters are evenly split between those who vote for Republicans and those who vote for Democrats — but it’s not really a tossup race.
Bishop faces a rematch with likely GOP nominee Randy Altschuler, a businessman who lost by 593 votes in 2010.
Altschuler has some significant advantages in his second bid that he didn’t have last time: The party establishment is behind him, he has a stronger campaign team, he’ll be on the New York Independence Party’s ballot line, Republicans have a registration advantage in the district, he’s now a seasoned candidate, and he’s been working to emphasize his personal narrative to soften his image.
But all of that might not matter. The electorate that turns out in a presidential year is considerably more favorable to Bishop, who never really stopped campaigning after 2010.
“I am expecting a very tough race. I am not taking anything for granted,” he said earlier this year.
Altschuler will be hampered as much as helped by his business bona fides.
Democrats will attack him, as they did in 2010, for his former business OfficeTiger, which outsourced jobs to India. And Democrats note that if that line of attack was successful enough to beat him in a truly abysmal environment for the party, the 2012 climate doesn’t bode well for Altschuler’s chances.
Altschuler will tie Bishop to an unpopular Washington, D.C., establishment, but messaging won’t matter as much as turnout in the end.
Said one longtime New York Republican operative: “I think it’s going to be awful hard, in a presidential year, for a Republican to win it.”
2nd district Incumbent: Peter King (R) 10th term (72 percent) Rating: Safe Republican
Redistricting did King no favors, but that doesn’t mean he’s in any real danger this cycle. His current district voted for McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008, while his newly configured one would have gone for Barack Obama. Still, he should significantly outperform presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney in November.
3rd district Incumbent: Steve Israel (D) 6th term (56 percent) Rating: Safe Democratic
Israel, the DCCC chairman, saw his district grow a touch less Democratic in the redraw, but he’ll be fine.
4th district Incumbent: Carolyn McCarthy (D) 8th term (54 percent) Rating: Safe Democratic
McCarthy’s district got a few points less Democratic under the new map, but she shouldn’t face much of a battle. Still, if the economy tanks and the mood of the country turns strongly against the president, this district could be worth watching, even if the Republican candidates here this cycle are not.
5th district Incumbent: Gregory Meeks (D) 7th full term (88 percent) Rating: Safe Democratic
Under the redraw, Meek retains 80 percent of his current constituents and should cruise to another term in the House.
6th district New seat Rating: Safe Democratic
This new Queens-based district has portions of retiring Democratic Rep. Gary Ackerman’s current seat, along with about 46 percent of GOP Rep. Bob Turner’s constituents. Turner is running for Senate and couldn’t win in such a strong Democratic seat anyway.
State Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D) has the backing of the Queens Democratic party and EMILY’s List, but her shot at Congress is no sure thing. Her campaign has struggled to get a good early footing.
“So far, the miscues of the Meng campaign have been significant,” said a New York City Democratic insider unaffiliated with any campaign, noting issues of discipline and organization.
Meng faces a very serious primary challenger in ambitious Assemblyman Rory Lancman, who is not particularly well-liked in Democratic circles. Also in the race is New York City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley. She’s a cousin of Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.); though, as head of the Queens Democratic Party, he supports Meng.
Meng has the support of the local political machine, but it’s possible her plans might be upset along the way by Lancman.
New York City Councilman Dan Halloran is the presumptive Republican nominee, but right now he doesn’t have a shot at coming to Congress.
7th district Incumbent: Nydia Velázquez (D) 10th term (94 percent) Rating: Safe Democratic
Velázquez was the first Puerto Rican woman elected to Congress and has retained the strong support of her constituents since she took office in 1993. About 30 percent of the people in her redrawn district are new to her, and she faces a primary from New York City Councilman Erik Martin Dilan. He has the backing of Brooklyn Democratic leader Vito Lopez, but Velázquez still has the edge. The Congresswoman has the endorsements of many major elected officials in the district. She’s “in a very strong position,” said state Sen. Daniel Squadron (D), a Velázquez supporter whose district overlaps with hers.
The Campaign for Primary Accountability, an outside group dedicated to unseating incumbents, may play in this race against Velázquez, though it is more likely to get involved against Rep. Charlie Rangel (D).
8th district Open seat: Edolphus Towns (D) is retiring. Rating: Safe Democratic
After Towns’ announcement earlier this month that he wouldn’t seek another term representing this Brooklyn-based seat, state Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, already in a tough primary with Towns, became the likely nominee for this very safe Democratic seat. He faces New York City Councilman Charles Barron in a head-to-head primary that will determine who comes to Congress.
“Jeffries has been making the rounds for a good year, and he’s definitely the frontrunner there,” said one state Democratic Party insider, echoing the views of top Democrats across the state. Still, those most familiar with New York City politics cautioned that Barron, a former member of the Black Panther Party and 2010 gubernatorial candidate, has a true base of support and that in a low-turnout primary, he might have a shot.
Jeffries is seen as a rising star of New York progressive politics who would work to effect real change in Congress should he win the nomination fight.
Jeffries picked up the endorsement of MoveOn.org’s political action committee Tuesday, a boon to his progressive credentials.
9th district Incumbent: Yvette Clarke (D) 3rd term (91 percent) Rating: Safe Democratic
Clarke, who represents an eclectic assortment of neighborhoods in the heart of Brooklyn, should easily waltz to a fourth term in this Democratic stronghold.
10th district Incumbent: Jerrold Nadler (D) 10th full term (73 percent) Rating: Safe Democratic
The reconfigured district is still mostly Democratic Manhattan, and Nadler will win re-election here.
11th district Incumbent: Michael Grimm (R) 1st term (51 percent) Rating: Likely Republican
This race could change in a New York minute.
But for now, Grimm is an incumbent in a Republican-leaning district with $1.1 million in the bank and a Democratic opponent so weak that the first descriptor most party insiders use to describe him is a weighted sigh.
The mist of scandal has grown thicker around Grimm in recent months, and Democrats hope that all the innuendo and media accounts of malfeasance will eventually doom the former FBI agent’s re-election.
Nothing solid has materialized yet against the Congressman. Democrats’ top recruit, former Rep. Michael McMahon, took a pass on another try for the Staten Island-based seat, so the party is left with presumptive nominee Mark Murphy.
A former aide to the New York City public advocate and son of a former Congressman, Murphy raised only $156,000 in the first quarter. In an interview with Roll Call after he announced his campaign, Murphy ticked through national Democratic talking points but seemed unsure in what, exactly, he believed. He said he was going to campaign hard against a “say-no Congress.” But Murphy became flustered and had trouble coming up with an answer when asked what, in particular, he opposed that Congress had said no to.
If there is an indictment or a more solid case against Grimm, Democrats will probably be welcoming the new Congressman Murphy to the Hill in 2013. But for now, it’s very much Grimm’s race to lose.
12th district Incumbent: Carolyn Maloney (D) 10th term (75 percent) Rating: Safe Democratic
Maloney remains in a safe Manhattan-anchored district and will almost certainly be re-elected. She lost a chunk of constituents in the redraw, which she bemoaned. “No one likes to give up areas you’ve worked really hard with,” Maloney said in a recent interview, noting big projects she had been working on with her current district for years. “I have 100,000 new people, which I look forward to meeting.”
13th district Incumbent: Charlie Rangel (D) 21st term (80 percent) Rating: Safe Democratic
Rangel’s long tenure in this Harlem-anchored district means he has the edge in a multicandidate primary. But he still faces a serious primary challenge from state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, a Dominican-American. Rangel’s current district is 46 percent Hispanic. That number jumps to more than 55 percent under the new lines, meaning demographics could play a big role in the primary. The Campaign for Primary Accountability is seriously looking at getting involved against Rangel, a spokesman for the group said. Rangel has insisted he is running for re-election.
But if the outside group spends big money against the ethically tainted Member, Espaillat, who already has a proven base of support in the district, could get a real boost and, perhaps, give Rangel an incentive to make this term his last.
14th district Incumbent: Joe Crowley (D) 7th term (81 percent) Rating: Safe Democratic
Crowley is the chairman of the Queens Democratic Party and holds considerable sway over a big swath of New York City politics. He’ll easily win another term in Congress.
15th district Incumbent: José Serrano (D) 11th full term (96 percent) Rating: Safe Democratic
Serrano is as safe as can be in his reconfigured South Bronx district and will likely be the Congressman for the district as long as he desires.
16th district Incumbent: Eliot Engel (D) 12th term (73 percent) Rating: Safe Democratic
Engel always has to watch his political flank as a white man in a majority-minority district, but he avoided any primary opponents in this safe Democratic district, so he will glide to re-election.
17th district Incumbent: Nita Lowey (D) 12th term (63 percent) Rating: Likely Democratic
The climate isn’t really right for a Republican in this newly configured district, which would have voted 58 percent for Obama in 2008. It contains 49 percent of Lowey’s current constituents, but that doesn’t mean she’s vulnerable.
The presumptive GOP nominee is Rye Town Supervisor Joe Carvin, who loaned his campaign $1 million in the first quarter. That means there could be expensive fireworks here, but they’ll probably be more light than fire. Still, $1 million isn’t nothing, and if Carvin puts a serious campaign team around him, the race could get interesting.
Lowey ended March with $982,000 in the bank.
18th district Incumbent: Nan Hayworth (R) 1st term (53 percent) Rating: Tossup
Watch this race.
Less than seven months out, this is a pure coin-toss contest.
It will pit the freshman Hayworth against either attorney Sean Patrick Maloney or physician Richard Becker, the two strongest Democratic contenders for the nomination. Upstate Democrats and Republicans see Maloney as the stronger of the two.
In redistricting, Hayworth’s district grew slightly more Democratic, and she lost about a quarter of her current constituents. Under the lines for 2012, the 18th would have voted about 52 percent for Obama in 2008 and even more for now-Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in 2010.
Hayworth has a big advantage in money. The Democratic contenders will have to spend on the primary, which has started to turn nasty.
But the Congresswoman will likely be disadvantaged by her strong GOP voting record in a district that’s not. According to a 2011 Congressional Quarterly vote study, Hayworth voted with Republicans 90 percent of the time in votes where a majority of one party voted against the majority of the other. And one of those votes was for the controversial budget of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), which Democrats will be sure to note in contrast campaign ads.
Hayworth is also seen as imperfect at staying on message, which could be a disadvantage in a tight race.
“It’s going to come down to who can have the best field operation and get out the vote,” an upstate Democratic operative said. “Historically, Democrats do better on the ground.”
Hayworth campaign spokesman Jay Townsend admitted it was a district that wasn’t predisposed to either party.
“This is a swing district. It is going to be a swing district for the next decade,” he said. “Any incumbent can establish the advantages of incumbency here, but it would be difficult for any incumbent here to withstand the tide [of a wave] if you’re on the wrong side of it.”
Still, he said, given the environment, he’d rather be in Hayworth’s shoes.
“At the end of the day,” he said, “this is a referendum on Obama and his leadership. ... The presidential race is what will drive turnout.”
19th district Incumbent: Chris Gibson (R) 1st term (55 percent) Rating: Tossup
The court’s redraw left Gibson with a less favorable district: It would have voted by a few points for Obama, and it contains just under half of his current constituents. Because the freshman will be a blank slate to many of the voters, expect Democrats to tie him to his vote for the Ryan budget last year and the way it affects Medicare.
Gibson is a strong campaigner, and as a former military man, he is seen as an incredibly disciplined candidate. He’ll have a lot of opportunities to tell voters his own message about what kind of Congressman he is. Expect to see an emphasis on his independence.
This race is a good opportunity for Democrats, even if they didn’t get the top recruit in Ulster County Executive Mike Hein. The likely Democratic nominee is Julian Schreibman, a former federal prosecutor. “I helped bring terrorists to justice,” he writes on his website, noting his work in convicting members of al-Qaida.
Republicans believe Schreibman won’t make a particularly good candidate districtwide when matched up against Gibson, but Democrats are excited about this race.
If there’s a slight edge to this race, it’s in Gibson’s favor — he ended March with a comfortable $902,000 in the bank — but it’s very slight.
20th district Incumbent: Paul Tonko (D) 2nd term (59 percent) Rating: Safe Democratic
In his redrawn, Albany-centered district, Tonko is well-positioned to win another term.
21st district Incumbent: Bill Owens (D) 1st full term (48 percent) Rating: Tossup
This is going to be a tough seat for Democrats to keep.
In both his 2009 special election victory and 2010 re-election, Owens never got 50 percent of the vote. And in November, it doesn’t look like there will be a third-party spoiler.
The district remains true tossup territory and includes just under two-thirds of Owens’ current constituents.
Owens will face a rematch with investment banker Matt Doheny, who is a significantly flawed candidate with a lot of money. Republicans believe his considerable wealth and willingness to partly self-fund will compensate for his weaknesses. And Democrats worry that Owens, who had $718,000 in the bank at the end of March, will have trouble keeping up with Doheny in media spending in the district, which includes the Albany, Watertown and Burlington media markets. Doheny loaned his campaign $2.3 million in the 2010 cycle. How much will he put in this time?
“He’s willing to spend whatever it takes to win,” Doheny spokesman Jude Seymour said.
As for the candidates themselves, Owens, a Main Street sort of guy, is a better fit for the district than Doheny, a Wall Street kind of guy, observers of both parties said.
Owens will sell himself as a moderate politician for a moderate district and emphasize his focus on rural job creation. He’s already begun introducing himself to the new parts of the district, and aides believe he’ll connect well with voters there. The contrast Owens will attempt to make between himself and Doheny: a person focused on job creation versus a person focused on Wall Street moneymaking.
Doheny will paint himself as a job creator, too, and ask voters, who have continued to struggle: Where are all the jobs Owens has been so focused on bringing to the region?
If Doheny can make the race a referendum on Owens and his vote for the unpopular health care law and the lackluster economic recovery in the North Country region, it’s hard to see him losing. But Owens might be able to make the election a referendum on his challenger.
On a recent trip to D.C., Doheny was photographed apparently making out with a woman who was not his fiancee — and the photos were published by the snarky gossip website Gawker.com. This came after two citations for boating while intoxicated in 2004. Democrats will use those three incidents to say he’s out of touch with the conservative values of the district.
But if there is enough money supporting Doheny, it will probably make up for what one Republican called his “frat boy” image.
22nd district Incumbent: Richard Hanna (R) 1st term (53 percent) Rating: Likely Republican
Right now, Hanna appears to be in pretty good shape in his race against presumptive Democratic nominee Dan Lamb, a former aide to retiring Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.). It’s a Republican-tilting district, and unless he makes a major fumble, which is possible, in-state politicos expect Hanna to come back to Congress.
23rd district Incumbent: Tom Reed (R) 1st full term (57 percent) Rating: Safe Republican
There are no deeply safe districts for Republicans in New York, but this comes pretty close. Half the population of the newly configured district will be new to Reed, but he’s a good fit for the area.
Democrats in the state believe Reed won’t last in the district for the duration of the map, given that it’s only a slightly Republican seat, but they believe this isn’t the cycle he’ll be knocked off.
Part of the reason: The two serious Democratic candidates, attorney Leslie Danks Burke and hospital administrator Nate Shinagawa, are not considered to be of the highest caliber.
Things could change here if the mood swings strongly in Democrats’ favor, but, for now, Reed is pretty safe.
It’s going to be a tough race for Buerkle, who has struggled with fundraising and organization and now has to hew a path to victory as a conservative in a district that would have voted only 42 percent for McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008.
She faces a rematch with former Rep. Dan Maffei (D), a proven campaigner with significant name ID whom she unseated by a small margin in 2010.
Buerkle allies see Romney doing much better than McCain did in this reconfigured district and believe she has room to grow with proper messaging. They also point to the fact that she raised $238,000 in the first quarter, the most she’s ever raised in any quarter of her political career.
“Fundraising didn’t get off to a fast start, but that ship has been righted,” campaign manager David Ray said. “We’re going to be extremely competitive going forward.”
Health care will play in this race, with Republicans working to tie Maffei to an unpopular Washington for his vote in favor of the reform bill. Democrats will tie Buerkle to her votes for the Ryan plan and slam her for twice voting “to end Medicare.”
Maffei has the early edge in the race, even though a recent GOP poll showed Buerkle slightly ahead but at 42 percent. Empire State oddsmakers of both parties wouldn’t put any money on Buerkle.
25th district Incumbent: Louise Slaughter (D) 13th term (65 percent) Rating: Leans Democratic
Here’s a comfortable Democratic district with a well-liked incumbent, so why is it a race?
Only 38 percent of the 82-year-old’s current constituents are in the new district, and she faces a very serious Republican challenger in Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks.
Slaughter recently broke her leg, which Republicans note will highlight her age versus the younger Brooks.
Aides say Slaughter is definitely running, and national Democrats insist she’s ready for a real fight. “She’s still full of fire and going to be running a real campaign,” said one national Democrat familiar with the district.
But there are signs besides the obvious temporal ones — she was born in 1929 — that allude to why some Democrats believe that making this her last term might be a possibility she could consider.
“It’s a thing to run a modern Congressional [race] and some of these folks — even the younger of the more senior [New York] Members — have challenges being as nimble as it takes to run a modern campaign with the blogsophere and Twitter,” said one longtime Democratic observer of New York politics. “There’s a meta media game that happens every day that I think scares the bejesus of some of these senior Members.”
There’s a plenty-big opposition research book on Brooks; it’s a Democratic district and Slaughter is well-liked, so the Congresswoman has the edge right now. But watch for how this race evolves and how able Slaughter is to run a full-fledged campaign.
26th district Incumbent: Brian Higgins (D) 4th term (61 percent) Rating: Safe Democratic
The new map was extremely good to Higgins. His district went from being slightly competitive by the numbers to being staunchly Democratic. He can comfortably begin planning for his next term in Congress.
27th district Incumbent: Kathy Hochul (D) 1st term (47 percent) Rating: Tossup
In the most Republican district in New York, Hochul really should be toast. Her upset special election victory last year always appeared to be something of a fluke, and she was drawn into a district that would have voted only 44 percent for Obama in 2008.
But Hochul remains quite well-liked in the district, and Republicans managed to fumble recruiting.
The candidates in the race are former Erie County Executive Chris Collins, who hasn’t filed official federal paperwork yet, and Army veteran David Bellavia, who raised an embarrassing $11,000 in the first quarter.
“If it’s Collins, leave it to the Dems,” a longtime New York Republican operative admitted unhappily. “The thing with Collins is he’s pissed off a lot of people up there.”
Indeed he’s somehow managed to cross a lot of influential Republicans in the district, but he still has a massive edge in the primary because he’s expected to have significantly more money and starts with a base of name identification from his time as an Erie County elected official. Collins lost his re-election bid in 2011.
“Collins has the edge on money, but Bellavia has the edge on local support,” one upstate New York GOP consultant explained. As for the general, the consultant was not particularly bullish: “Hochul is pretty noncontroversial and well-liked.”
And in a Republican district, she’ll be able to claim at least some independence. According to a 2011 Congressional Quarterly vote study, she voted with Democrats only 81 percent of the time in votes where a majority of Democrats voted against a majority for Republicans.
By the numbers, this district should lean Republican, but Hochul’s likability and the potential GOP contenders make this a tossup race for now.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.