Primary Roundup: Along Came Alice

N.Y. Upset Was the Top Story of a Busy Primary Day

Posted September 10, 2008 at 6:39pm

For the past several months, whenever anyone talked about the race to replace retiring Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.), Alice Kryzan (D) was an afterthought.

But they’re not ignoring her now.

In the most stunning development of a busy primary day Tuesday, when voters went to the polls in seven states and the District of Columbia, Kryzan upset a multimillionaire making his third run for New York’s 26th district seat and the hand-picked candidate of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Kryzan, an environmental attorney, got 42 percent of the primary vote. Iraq War veteran Jon Powers, the choice of the DCCC, local Democratic leaders and prominent unions, got 36 percent. Jack Davis, a wealthy factory owner who fell a few points shy of ousting Reynolds in 2006, garnered 23 percent.

“Whether it was the old boys club that didn’t think a woman could make partner in a law firm or the Washington insiders that didn’t want an independent voice for the 26th district, I’ve never backed down from what I thought was right,” Kryzan told supporters late Tuesday night.

Kryzan’s victory was the most surprising development in a night that saw former Rep. Jeb Bradley (R-N.H.) move closer to winning his old seat back, and Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) beat back an aggressive young primary challenger.

But Kryzan was the story of Tuesday’s primaries.

She will face Chris Lee (R), a wealthy businessman, in November. The Buffalo-Rochester-area district leans Republican, but Democrats have talked boldly of flipping the seat this year. That talk faded somewhat as Republicans got firmly behind Lee and the primary battle between Powers and Davis became expensive — and nasty. Davis spent at least $2 million on the race, according to campaign finance records, and Powers spent close to $800,000.

But Kryzan, who spent about $450,000, largely remained above the fray, and she ran an attention-grabbing TV ad right before the primary that showed a young man and an old man fighting over a park bench.

“Alice Kryzan didn’t win this race — Jon Powers and Jack Davis lost it,” Reynolds said in an interview.

But Democrats moved quickly to hail her victory, and the DCCC on Wednesday added Kryzan to its “Red to Blue” program for promising candidates running for Republican-held seats. She may also soon be endorsed by EMILY’s List, a Democratic fundraising powerhouse that supports abortion rights.

“Alice Kryzan is a viable candidate heading into the general election,” the DCCC said in a strategy memo released Wednesday. “The momentum from her exciting primary victory, in which she was outspent by two well-known Democrats, will propel Kryzan into the general election with a strong message, a favorable political environment and a virtually unknown opponent. There is no doubt that Chris Lee faces an uphill battle defending the status quo Republican agenda.”

But even with newfound institutional support, Kryzan faces several hurdles. She has refused to accept money from political action committees, and that could be a handicap against a well-funded Republican opponent. Even though she touted a pro-environment agenda, she is best known in the Buffalo area as a lawyer for one of the polluters in the infamous Love Canal toxic waste case.

What’s more, Powers and Davis could still be factors in the general election race. Powers remains on the ballot as the nominee of the Working Families Party, though he is not expected to campaign actively. And Davis attempted to get on the fall ballot through a new political entity, the Save Our Jobs Party. Although elections officials have disqualified the party on technical grounds, Davis could sue to overturn their decision; he already successfully challenged the “Millionaires’ Amendment” provision of federal campaign finance law, so political observers in western New York do not discount the possibility of Davis attempting to get back on the ballot.

After Reynolds announced his retirement this spring, two dozen Republicans were mentioned as possible replacements. But most GOP leaders eventually coalesced behind Lee, and the Congressman has provided the first-time candidate with many of his political lieutenants and consultants.

“I think we have the right candidate [to hold the seat],” Reynolds said Wednesday. “We have a $3 million budget. We have a candidate who’s running for this seat full time, and a team that knows how to win in this district.”

Like Kryzan in her primary night victory speech, Lee is casting himself as an “independent voice” for the district.

“On Nov. 4, the people of western New York will certainly have a clear choice, and the opportunity to send an independent voice to Washington who shares their values and speaks to their needs,” Lee said in a statement after Kryzan’s victory. “I intend to be that voice, and with the help of our outstanding grassroots volunteers and community leaders, we will fix a broken Washington.”

In other notable New York Congressional primaries Tuesday:

• Towns held off a spirited challenge from author and community activist Kevin Powell (D), defeating him by a 2-1 margin.

• New York City Councilman Michael McMahon easily won the Democratic primary in the race to replace scandal-tinged Rep. Vito Fossella (R) and is favored in November over the GOP primary winner, former state Assemblyman Robert Straniere. In a sign of how bad Republican prospects are for holding their lone seat in New York City, the National Republican Congressional Committee failed to mention Fossella’s district in a post-primary memo on competitive House races in the Empire State.

• Former state Assemblyman Paul Tonko won a competitive five-way Democratic primary in the 21st district and is the odds on favorite to replace retiring Rep. Mike McNulty (D) in the 111th Congress.

Meanwhile, two competitive Republican primaries were held Tuesday in New Hampshire, and the winners are bidding to oust Democratic freshmen who defeated GOP incumbents in 2006.

In the 1st district, Bradley, a former two-term Congressman, narrowly defeated former state Health Commissioner John Stephen (R) and is headed to what is expected to be a very close rematch with Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D).

And in the 2nd district Republican primary, former radio show host Jennifer Horn bested state Sen. Bob Clegg and heads into November as the underdog against Rep. Paul Hodes (D).