ALBANY—It's been just a little over 24 hours since Representative John McHugh accepted Barack Obama's call to become secretary of the Army. Already, Representative Steve Israel has been in touch with Democratic leaders plotting about how best to win the seat.
"This is all very much pre-game," Israel, the national recruitment chair for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told me by phone. But on the heels of Scott Murphy's long-shot win in the special election in the 20th District, Israel said the 23rd District is a "toss-up." (The Cook Political Report agrees.)
"It's a good news-bad news district," he said. "The good news is that Barack Obama won it with 52 percent. The less-good news is that the Republicans retain a voter registration advantage of over 46,000, and it's never had a Democratic member of Congress."
A winning candidate–Israel declined to talk about any specific names–will have to exemplify the "three M's:" message, mobilization, and "an ability to raise the money that's going to be necessary to defend against an onslaught of Republican National Committee negative advertising."
As was their play in the 20th District, Israel said, the DCCC would wait to see if a candidate has legs before committing major resources.
There have been several names floated by knowledgeable observers, the most prominent of which has been State Senator Darrel Aubertine, a conservative dairy farmer who I've heard several Republicans say would make an outstanding candidate. It's unclear, though, if he will leave his seat in that chamber, where he holds down a precarious front as Democrats try to maintain or increase their majority there. State Senator David Valesky has also been mentioned, but faces the same problem.
Republicans have more choices. Two of the oft-repeated names are Assemblywoman DeDe Scozzafava, from Gouverneur, and State Senator Joe Griffo, who lives just outside the district.
All of this really is premature, though, as the date and form of the election have not been decided. David Paterson declined to say what he would do, when asked earlier, and Israel offered no insights.
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