New York: Contenders Wait for a Date in 20th District

Posted February 2, 2009 at 6:32pm

The contenders for the heavyweight battle to replace new Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) in the House have been set. What’s not known is when the fight will take place.

Democratic leaders in upstate New York on Sunday selected venture capitalist Scott Murphy as their nominee to replace Gillibrand in an upcoming special election.

The Democratic chairmen of the 10 counties within the sprawling 20th district unanimously selected Murphy after interviewing four candidates in an Albany diner. Murphy will square off against state Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco (R) in what is likely to be a highly competitive race.

The 20th district seat represents a major pickup opportunity for beleaguered House Republicans. Newly elected Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele plans to travel to the district later this week to meet with Tedisco and local party leaders. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) have already pledged fundraising help.

National Democrats have yet to reveal how much they plan to invest in the campaign, but in tapping Murphy, they have selected a nominee who has already expressed a willingness to drop some of his own money into the race. Murphy has started several businesses and runs one of the biggest venture capital funds in upstate New York.

“Scott will be a powerful advocate for change in Washington and will use his experience and business know-how to get things done for upstate New York,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) said in a statement.

Republicans are already going after Murphy, saying that he failed to pay certain taxes on a software company that he owned in the 1990s and accusing him of adjusting his biography on his firm’s Web site.

Gov. David Paterson (D) has yet to schedule the special election. Once he officially declares a vacancy, the vote must be held within 30 to 40 days.

Until Gillibrand’s upset victory over then-Rep. John Sweeney (R) in 2006, the 20th district was considered a Republican stronghold, but it is far more competitive now. Still, Republicans hold a 70,000-voter edge in party enrollment.