A GOP Moderate in N.Y. Race — Sound Familiar?

Posted December 9, 2009 at 6:17pm

After failing to recruit a strong candidate in 2008, Republicans think they have found in ophthalmologist Nan Hayworth a challenger who can give sophomore Rep. John Hall (D-N.Y.) a run for his money in 2010. And their chances were boosted late last month when fellow Republican Greg Ball, a state Assemblyman, abruptly dropped out of the race, lessening the chances of a damaging GOP primary.

“She is a very exciting candidate,— National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) said. “She is going to broaden the spectrum of people listening to the Republican message.—

Despite her lack of political experience, Republicans say Hayworth’s accomplishments in the medical field — until 2005 she was a partner in the Mount Kisco Medical Group — her tough talk on fiscal discipline, her ability to self-fund and her personable nature could make her a formidable opponent in a district where President Barack Obama edged Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) just 51 percent to 48 percent.

Hayworth gave her campaign $150,000 of her own money and reported $318,000 in cash on hand at the end of the third quarter, rivaling Hall’s $351,000. She said she is prepared to invest more of her own funds, if necessary.

Democrats doubt Hall’s vulnerability after his 58 percent win in 2008 — he is not on their “Frontline— program for vulnerable incumbents — pointing to the Hudson Valley region’s trend toward Democrats this decade and his record of constituent service.

“Congressman Hall has been hard at work fighting to bring jobs, economic development and investments in infrastructure to the Hudson Valley,— Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Shripal Shah said. “Though Nan Hayworth wants to double down on the failed Bush economic agenda that got us into this mess, Congressman Hall is committed to turning the page and moving our economy forward.—

And it remains to be seen whether Hayworth can turn her promise into reality. In addition to a lack of campaign experience, she still has much to prove among local Republicans, many of whom supported the more conservative Ball until he announced he was switching gears and running for the state Senate on Nov. 21.

One factor in Ball’s change of heart was his concern about having to pivot from a heated primary fight to the general election, with only six weeks in between. And he worried that he wouldn’t have the national party’s full backing should he win the primary, according to a Republican consultant familiar with the race. The NRCC had added Ball to the first tier of its “Young Guns— program for recruits this summer, but they also welcomed Hayworth’s candidacy when she joined the race in the fall. Michael Edelman, a Republican political commentator based in Westchester County, said Hayworth would be appealing to Republican recruiters because she “doesn’t have any enemies in the district.—

“She is a noncontroversial Republican,— he said.

Ball is the opposite, Edelman said. He ruffled feathers in Assembly when he called the legislature out for being “dysfunctional,— was investigated for sexually harassing a former Assembly aide — but was not found in violation of the Assembly’s sexual harassment policy — and has also been accused of campaign finance violations during his Congressional run. Even state Assemblywoman Nancy Calhoun, a Ball ally, acknowledges that he “has a way of polarizing people.—

Republicans in Washington, D.C., think Hayworth’s lack of political history — not only has she never before run for office, but she has not been active in county or state politics — is an asset. “Career politicians are not in a good position,— NRCC spokesman Tory Mazzola said.

Hayworth’s absence from the political sphere, however, means she has her work cut out for her at the local level.

Vincent Reda, the chairman of the Republican Party in Rockland County, one of five counties wholly or partly within the district, said Hayworth was by no means the preferred candidate of local officials. Reda said there are “three other people that are interested in running for the position,— though he declined to identify them. And he added that there is also a “movement afloat to get Greg Ball back into race— among some of the Assemblyman’s supporters.

“I found her a very, very lovely person,— Reda said of his recent meeting with Hayworth. “She seems to be intelligent.— But he added that she still has much to learn about “the issues that are afloat— in the region.

Like Reda, Calhoun said she believed Ball would have been the strongest candidate in the race, but she was open to supporting Hayworth.

“From what I’ve seen she has a lot of good things to offer,— Calhoun said.

“If she can be a quick study and can bring herself up to speed on issues, she can be very viable,— Calhoun said, particularly if she can “make inroads in Westchester County,— Hayworth’s home base and traditionally a Democratic stronghold in the district.

Hayworth does have one key local ally — former Rep. Sue Kelly (R), who represented the district from 1995 through 2006, when she was upset by Hall in a race decided by fewer than 5,000 votes.

Hayworth, who sat down with Roll Call during a visit to Washington last week, acknowledged that she did “not seek out a role in politics— while she “was pursuing a career as a physician,— but that she has been an engaged citizen. “All my life I’ve been a student of politics,— Hayworth said.

She also said she has always been a registered Republican and a “advocate for economic freedom.— She has signed the Americans for Tax Reform pledge to oppose any and all tax increases. And she said she would have opposed the cap-and-trade bill and the Democrats’ health care proposal, which is likely to be a signature issue in the campaign given her medical experience. She has put her medical career on hold while she runs for Congress.

Hayworth is more moderate on social issues, which could be a challenge should she face a primary rival. In particular, she is an abortion-rights supporter, though she said she opposes late-term abortions and would have voted for Rep. Bart Stupak’s (D-Mich.) amendment in the House’s health care legislation to bar any chance that federal funding is used for abortion procedures. Hayworth could also face questions about her husband, Scott, an ob-gyn who in the past performed abortions when life or health of the mother was at stake, her spokesman confirmed.

Hayworth has reached out to Mike Long, the state Conservative Party chairman whose support for a third-party candidate in the special election in New York’s 23rd district this fall split Republican voters. But Long is holding off for now.

Sessions, for one, said he did not think Hayworth’s stance on abortion would be a major issue in the race, noting that late-term abortion “is where the battle is being fought right now.—

Republicans believe Hayworth’s ideology is more in line with the district, which had a strong record of voting Republican until Hall’s upset in 2006. They will try to paint Hall as too far to the left and will point to his votes for the cap-and-trade bill, the fiscal 2009 omnibus spending bill and the stimulus, as well as his earned party unity scores — which refer to the percentage of time that a Member votes with the majority of his party on votes in which the two parties split — 96 percent and 99 percent in 2007 and 2008, respectively.

Hall, however, is not giving Republicans much else to hang their hats on. The likable former frontman for the ’70s band Orleans has made veterans affairs one of his top issues, and even Hayworth acknowledged that Hall has rightly received praise for his veterans services.

And Calhoun credited Hall for being “an active Congressman.—

“He goes a lot of places and seems to be generally well-liked as a person,— she said.

That hasn’t kept the district as emerging as a good takeover prospect in Republican minds. Sessions declined to list how the race ranks among the party’s targeted seats in New York, but he said the fact “that I know [Hayworth] as well as I do speaks highly— of how he views the race.