Primaries Set Stage for Multiple New York House Battles

Posted September 15, 2010 at 12:36am

Tuesday’s primaries in New York decided the GOP nominees in a handful of districts that Republicans are targeting as ripe pickup opportunities this fall.

The GOP currently holds just two of the Empire State’s 29 House seats, and making gains in the Northeast is a key plank in Republicans’ effort to win back the House majority in the midterm elections.

Tuesday’s primaries largely produced good news for the GOP. Businessman Randy Altschuler won an ugly, three-way primary to earn the Republican nomination against Rep. Tim Bishop (D) in the Long Island-based 1st district.

Altschuler’s victory came as a relief to Republicans who feared that the general election might become a three-way contest if the wealthy businessman lost the GOP race but continued to run as the Conservative Party nominee.

Altschuler had 45 percent of the vote with almost 100 percent of precincts reporting.

Altschuler was the early favorite of state and national party leaders in large part because of his personal wealth, of which he spent $2 million during the primary. But Altschuler’s early momentum ground to a halt after the entrance of Chris Cox, a business consultant and the grandson of President Richard Nixon. Former Securities and Exchange Commission attorney George Demos also complicated what became a nasty primary, especially after he won the endorsement of conservative icon Rush Limbaugh. He took second place Tuesday night with 31 percent.

Despite the bloodletting on the GOP side, Republicans believe they can capitalize on conservative unrest and favorable voter registration numbers in the 1st district and give Bishop the race of his life this fall.

In his victory speech Tuesday night, Altschuler said that Americans are sick of “the status quo, the bloated federal bureaucracy and the culture of corruption” on Capitol Hill.

“Simply put, Tim Bishop, Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the Democrats have failed us, and so now we are coming to take our government back,” Altschuler said.

Meanwhile, in upstate New York’s 23rd district, businessman Matt Doheny’s primary victory Tuesday night sets up a case of déjà vu for Republicans.

Doheny led accountant Doug Hoffman 53 percent to 47 percent to secure the GOP nomination. But Hoffman holds the Conservative Party line, and if he doesn’t drop off the ballot he could create the same scenario that helped Rep. Bill Owens (D) win last year’s special election against Hoffman and Republican nominee Dede Scozzafava.

One difference from last fall is that Hoffman’s campaign hasn’t garnered the same enthusiasm it did from national conservatives, who poured nearly $2 million into his special election campaign. Doheny, meanwhile, has vast personal resources. The National Republican Congressional Committee has talked up GOP chances in the 23rd district, which until Owens’ victory had been in GOP hands since the 19th century. But the NRCC has yet to reserve airtime in the district.

Owens has more than $1 million in the bank for the fall campaign, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has reserved more than $900,000 in airtime in media markets that cover the 23rd district.

In the Staten Island-based 13th district, businessman and former FBI agent Michael Grimm won the GOP primary Tuesday and will take on freshman Rep. Michael McMahon (D) this fall.

Grimm defeated Michael Allegretti, a former aide to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I), by a 2-to-1 margin.

The nasty GOP primary caused a rift in the district among Republicans, but party leaders insist they’ll be united in the effort to reclaim a district that they say McMahon only won because of the implosion of disgraced former Rep. Vito Fossella (R). Republicans have hit McMahon hard on his votes for the cap-and-trade and economic stimulus bills. It remains to be seen whether McMahon’s vote against the health care bill will be enough to dull the anger of GOP voters this fall.

In two districts that appear to represent Republicans’ best pickup opportunities this fall, Tuesday’s primaries were mere formalities because the GOP candidates had clear paths to their nominations.

In the 24th district, Rep. Michael Arcuri (D) will face businessman Richard Hanna (R) in a rematch of their close 2008 contest. In the 19th district, Rep. John Hall (D) is battling ophthalmologist Nan Hayworth (R). Both are considered tossup races at this point.

Republicans are also targeting Rep. Scott Murphy, another special election winner, in the upstate 20th district. Murphy will face Army veteran Chris Gibson in a contest in which GOP strategists are very high on their chances of winning.

In the 29th district, former Corning Mayor Tom Reed (R) will square off against military veteran Matt Zeller for the seat formerly held by disgraced ex-Rep. Eric Massa (D). Reed is heavily favored to win in November, as Democrats don’t appear to be actively contesting the race.