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Maffei Vs. Buerkle Is a Top Rematch to Watch

Heather Ainsworth/Associated Press
Ex-Rep. Dan Maffei lost to Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle by fewer than 700 votes last election cycle and is mounting a comeback campaign to recapture New York’s 25th district.

Right before Thanksgiving last year, then-Rep. Dan Maffei (D) called Anne Marie Buerkle (R) and conceded the race for New York’s 25th district.

He had lost by 648 votes, three-tenths of 1 percent of votes cast.

Given the margin of defeat, Maffei told Roll Call, “One always would have regrets.”

But Buerkle may well be having regrets of her own if she isn’t able to pull her campaign organization together during the next few months. She’ll likely face Maffei next November in what could be a top rematch of the 2012 cycle.

Buerkle raised only $89,000 in the third quarter and is seen by Democratic and Republican operatives in the Empire State as the most vulnerable Republican Member of the delegation.

And even with the best campaign operation, the race will probably be very close again. The 25th district voted for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and President Barack Obama in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections, respectively, but elected a Republican, Rep. Jim Walsh, to represent it in Congress for two decades.

Redistricting remains a colossal question mark in the Empire State, with even the venue in which new lines will be decided — the Legislature, the courts, an independent commission — still up in the air. But Buerkle and Maffei live near Syracuse, so they are quite likely to face each other regardless of how the district changes. Maffei faces a primary challenge from attorney Brianne Murphy, but she raised only $29,000 in six months and is not seen as a serious contender.

Buerkle’s camp insists the operation is in turnaround: A new chief of staff, Timothy Drumm, was brought on in August, and a new fundraising team was hired about the same time.

“I think we’re going to see a good [fourth] quarter, significantly better than the last. She’s really working hard and redoubled her efforts,” Drumm said.

New York and national strategists also expect the numbers to improve for her.

“A lot of her problems were staff-driven, because you had people without experience involved with her,” said an unaffiliated upstate Republican strategist. “But I think some of these staff changes will help overcome that. And it’s a different game when you’re an incumbent then when you’re running as a challenger.”

But being a Member of Congress also comes with one key political disadvantage: votes.

Maffei said there was no question that it would be easier to campaign against Buerkle given that she had taken a year’s worth of votes, including ones for the controversial budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

“There’s a record there, and the record is very clear and not in step with the district, even moderates and a lot of Republicans in the district,” Maffei said of Buerkle’s votes.

He said he would emphasize job creation as his “real focus” and alluded that Buerkle had turned her focus to “other issues that don’t improve the economy in upstate New York.”

Buerkle’s campaign will likely focus on jobs and the economy, too. And Maffei has votes of his own, including for the controversial Democratic health care law, that he’ll be forced to defend.

“I stand by my record,” Maffei said. “It was a moderate record and this is a moderate area of the country.”

According to a Congressional Quarterly vote study, Maffei voted with Democrats 94 percent of the time in 2009 and 93 percent of the time in 2010. He voted in favor of the stimulus law and the cap-and-trade bill.

National Democrats crow that Maffei substantially outraised Buerkle in the third quarter, with the former Member pulling in $201,000 to Buerkle’s $89,000. She raised just $65,000 in the first three months of the year, which included a paltry $7,300 from individuals. Buerkle pulled in a more respectable $121,000 in April, May and June fundraising but fell back below the key $100,000 line over the summer.

One upstate Democratic strategist said that, with hard work, Maffei should be able to win back the few hundred votes he lost by in 2010.

“If he gets some help from some very popular elected officials,” the source said, “that could definitely swing the balance.”

But there are a whole host of variables that might change the result this time around: Redistricting may make the race a near foregone conclusion one way or the other, the turnout model will be different in a presidential election year and national trends will play a role, as they did in 2010.

Maffei noted he did better in regions closer to his home and “the further away you got from our area, people were more influenced by national events and trends,” he said.

“We really were, unfortunately, on the edge of this wave. And when you’re the last person cut off, it’s hard,” Maffei said.

But this time around, it might be hard for his opponent, Buerkle.

“She caught a wave last time,” a New York Republican consultant said. “And that wave may or may not be here for her this year.”

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