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Parties Make Tactical Choices in N.Y. 23 Special

Like generals preparing to fight the last war, party leaders in New York’s 23rd Congressional district apparently have decided that the results of the special election in the state’s nearby 20th district is all the information they need.

On the surface, the two parties have repeated their selections from 20th district, with Republicans picking a veteran legislator, state Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, and Democrats selecting a political neophyte who isn’t burdened with a legislative record to defend and who has some personal resources, Attorney Bill Owens.

But, in fact, Republicans, hoping to avoid another special election loss, have done a significant about-face, picking a politically moderate woman with significant appeal to Independent voters and even to Democrats.

The key questions now are whether Scozzafava’s liberal record on abortion rights and gay rights, as well as doubts about her position on the Employee Free Choice Act, will drive conservatives to the Conservative Party line and the party’s nominee, Doug Hoffman.

And, will Democrats be as successful beating up the Assemblywoman and demonizing her record as they were in the 20th district special election, when they kept the focus on state Sen. Jim Tedisco’s (R) long record in the state Legislature? Owens has already stressed that he is not “a career politician” — an obvious shot at his Republican opponent.

Party registration figures — always a lagging indicator — favor the GOP in the district, but the Republican advantage in the 23rd district is less than the GOP advantage in the 20th district, where Democrat Scott Murphy narrowly won a late-March special election.

According to the New York State Board of Elections, as of April 1, 43.1 percent of active voters were Republicans in the 23rd, while 31 percent were Democrats — a 12.1-point advantage for the GOP.

In contrast, in the 20th district, Republicans held a larger 14.7-point advantage, 41.5 percent to 26.8 percent.

In both districts, the GOP edge has been eroding. In the 23rd, the Republican registration advantage was 14.6 points in November 2006 and 16.2 points in November 2002. So, recent registration trends clearly favor Democrats.

President Barack Obama carried the district last year with 52 percent, compared to 47 percent for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

But geography may not be in Owens’ favor.

The district, which includes all of or parts of 11 counties, is a sprawling one, taking in the state’s most northern counties along the St. Lawrence Seaway and including two long “arms” that stretch south, one of which reaches almost all the way to Schenectady. The other arm stretches south between Syracuse and Utica.

Owens comes from Plattsburgh, in the extreme northeast corner of the district, while Scozzafava represents a geographically large Assembly district right in the middle of the Congressional district. Owens’ home county, Clinton, is only the fourth most populous county in the district.

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