Attacking Owens by Attacking the Process, Obama

CLIFTON PARK—Republicans are greeting the selection of Bill Owens, the newly minted Democratic candidate to replace John McHugh in Congress, with mockery.

"All of a sudden we've got to go out and get a non-party person to run on the Democratic ticket? I guess the question is, are they running away from their president?" said Jim Ellis, chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party.

I spoke with Ellis for several minutes just now, and he said that he expected Owens to run to the right of Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, his party's nominee for the seat. (Scozzafava's campaign hasn't returned several inquiries I've made over the course of the day.)

This echoes the sentiment of Conservative Party leader Mike Long, who said Scozzafava is "the most liberal" of the candidates in the race. The Conservative Party has nominated accountant Doug Hoffman.

"I would expect that he's going to run to the right of him. He's Darrel Aubertine without being Darrel Aubertine," Ellis said of Owens, invoking the name of the popular state senator who was the presumptive Democratic nominee before withdrawing from consideration after Republicans preemptively attacked. "If it had been him, or Darrel Aubertine, or Mr. X, they would have all run to the right of Dede. Because that's what the data is telling them. I've got to be honest, I don't really know. But the data, supposedly, is that people are fed up with the spending and fed up with the arrogance of the Congress of the United States. As Jefferson said, a little rebellion is a good thing."

Ellis had a tough time actually coming up with anything too bad to say about Owens himself, though. He said he didn't consider his lack of legislative experience a problem. The phrase he repeated to me was "running away from their president," which foreshadows a talking point we're likely to hear more of in this race.

Last night, National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Paul Lindsay issued a statement that didn't address the merits of Owens's candidacy, or attack it. It just pre-emptively defended Scozzafava, who Owens has yet to mention.

"Now that Bill Owens has been selected by his party, it is only a matter of time before he will try to distort Dede Scozzafava's work to create jobs and fight against wasteful spending in Albany," Lindsay said. "We are prepared to assist Dede in whatever capacity we can to fight against the false attacks and personal smears that have already been spread by her opponents. Voters in central and northern New York are looking for a common-sense leader who can work across party lines to better their communities, and Dede is the only candidate in this race who has a record of doing just that."

A special election for the seat is expected to fall in November, but has not been formally called.