Republicans Undertake an Actual Open Nominating Process for the McHugh Seat

ALBANY—Republicans are determined not to let the special election in the 23rd Congressional District be a repeat of their against-the-odds loss earlier this year in the 20th District, starting with the selection process.

While the Capitol melted, the Republican State Committee detailed a system of four candidate forums in various parts of the district, where any candidate seeking to replace John McHugh, who has accepted Barack Obama's nomination to be secretary of the Army, can give a 10-minute presentation to the Republican committee members who attend. Eventually, the chairs of the 11 counties will meet and designate a candidate.

This standardized system was pushed for, I'm told, by Franklin County Chairman Jim Ellis.

"I'm trying to run this process in a lot cleaner way than they ran it in the 20th," he told me by phone from his Tupper Lake home. "We were talking, and we sort of shook our heads in amazement when that whole thing went down. And we said that if something like that ever happened here, we would do something much differently."

The 20th District never had such a process, or even a chance for candidates to be interviewed. Several people involved in the Republican recruitment process there said that the county chairs met once, and before something could be formally worked out, support coalesced—with the blessing of embattled State Chairman Joe Mondello—behind then Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco. He lost the race by a little over 700 votes.

There have been several Republicans who have expressed interest in the seat, including Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava and Derek Champagne, the Franklin County district attorney.

Mondello put out a statement supporting Ellis's process for the 23rd, saying "it rightly retains decision-making authority with the county chairs, as stipulated by our party blylaws, while including significant input from local organizations and supporters.

"When this process is complete, I am confident that our candidate will best represent the needs of the people of the 23rd CD, run an effective campaign and win the seat."

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Meanwhile, State Senator Joe Griffo has declared that he will not seek the seat. His office put out a press release earlier this week that was picked up in the local papers.

"I was not pressured in any way to not run. I think that my conference is pleased that I'm not running," Griffo told me by phone. "This whole thing, as I said, it happened so quickly and I got a lot of calls on that first day from supporters, and everybody said, ‘You've got to look at this.' But I'm honored to serve in the Senate, my focus is there, and I still think that's my primary concern and where I'd like to be."