Official portrait of Rep. Bill Owens (D)
Rep. Bill Owens (D)
In another blow to Democratic hopes of retaking the House, Upstate New York Rep. Bill Owens has announced that he'll retire at the end of this term. Owens hadn't been in Congress very long: He first won a crazy special election in 2009, picking up a GOP-held seat when the Republican candidate, Dede Scozzafava, dropped out days before the election and endorsed Owens over Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman. Owens narrowly prevailed, and that would become a theme for him in subsequent elections.

In fact, his first victory margin—all of 2.4 percent—was his widest. In both 2010 and 2012, he won by less than 2 percent. A big reason for that is the district's demographics: New York's 21st went for Barack Obama by a rather close 52-46 spread in 2012, though it's slowly been trending toward Democrats overall. Owens also found himself in the midst of an ethical imbroglio last cycle over a lobbyist-arranged trip to Taiwan, and Republicans hammered him for it. However, he still hung on, and last year, the House Ethics Committee dropped its inquiry into the matter.

Still, Owens was set to face yet another hard-fought race this year against businesswoman and former Bush aide Elise Stefanik, and that may have been enough to send him to the exits. Now, his departure will likely make it harder for Democrats to hold this seat, particularly since the party's bench in this area is not especially deep. However, as we alluded above, Owens did run behind Obama last time, so a new candidate might offer some upside. And Stefanik might suddenly find herself with company in the GOP primary, now that the seat is open.

But as a result of Owens' unexpected decision to call it quits, we're changing our rating on this race from Lean Democrat to Tossup.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Elections on Tue Jan 14, 2014 at 09:52 AM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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