Three names have emerged as the possible Democratic nominee in the special election to replace Chris Lee in the NY-26. They are Erie County (Buffalo and some of its suburbs) Clerk Kathy Hochul, Erie County Comptroller Mark Poloncarz, and Iraq war veteran Jon Powers. Any talk about Kathy Konst as the nominee is wishful thinking on the part of her supporters, and should not be taken seriously.
The nominee will be chosen not by a primary, but by the weighted vote of the Democratic Party county committees in the district. Here is a quick rundown on the three actual possibilities. For more on the district, see my backgrounder here.
The most interesting possibility--Mark Poloncarz
There are some in the netroots who might be surprised that I would name Mark Poloncarz as the most interesting candidate instead of Jon Powers, but I do so for two good reasons.
First, Poloncarz has actually gone to the mat in real fights against Erie County Executive Chris Collins, who is a vicious right-winger. These fights have ranged from Poloncarz suing Collins on multiple occasions, and even to denying a Collins new refrigerator for a time.
Second, Poloncarz started an organization called WNY Democrats for Progress. The organization clearly has roots in the New Democrat faction of the party (it was originally called New Democrats of WNY), but a recent name change implies a shift to a more progressive locus. Also, the group is engaged in an ongoing effort to develop an online presence for Democrats in the region, and Eric Schneiderman has been the group’s main endorsement to date.
Poloncarz comes off as both a fighter and an organizer, even if he may have some Village and / or New Dem tendencies (like this). However, it is widely believed by the local activists I have spoken with that Poloncarz really wants to challenge Chris Collins for Erie County Executive, not run for Congress.
The likely nominee--Kathy Hochul
As interesting as Poloncarz seems, there is a much higher probability that the Democratic nominee will be the more centrist Kathy Hochul.
Most importantly, she has the support of more county party committees than any other potential candidate. Erie County Dem Chair Len Lenihan has gone on the record supporting Hochul. Further, two separate sources confirm she is the choice of the chairs in Monroe and Niagara counties.
Hochul also has the sort of bipartisan credibility that incites drool in the recruiters at the DCCC. For example, she was endorsed by both the Conservative and Working Families parties in last year’s re-election campaign. She was able to do this because New York uses a fusion voting system that allows different parties to nominate the same candidate.
Like Poloncarz, Hochul is widely believed to be eyeing a run for County Executive--possibly even a contested primary against Poloncarz. However, she is less-than-wedded to that specific office. For example, in 2008, she conducted a benchmark poll in NY-26 (the poll was not, as the linked article suggests, a push poll). This is a rock-solid indicator she has very seriously considered running for this congressional seat in the recent past.
Since they are potential rivals for both seats, one possible solution to all this would be Poloncarz and Hochul dividing up turf. That is, one agrees to run for NY-26, while the other runs for County Executive. Given my prior experience in party committee politics, I would be stunned if a deal like that hasn’t been floated by multiple local decision makers.
Also in the running--Jon Powers
When the news of Chris Lee’s resignation hit, Iraq war veteran Jon Powers wrote on his Facebook page that he was “definitely thinking hard about" running. Powers ran for the sat in 2008, losing the primary to Alice Kryzan. That was mainly because Powers got into a bitter fight with Jack Davis, the pathetic 2004 and 2006 nominee who also ran in 2008. Powers and Davis took each other out, allowing Kryzan to rise to the top.
One disadvantage Powers faces in securing the nomination is that he has been somewhat withdrawn from the district. In late 2008, he moved to DC in an unsuccessful attempt to be removed from the Working Families Party line. The idea was to give Kryzan a shot at winning the seat, but it didn’t work and he remained on the WFP line. He still lives, and works, in DC, too. While this does not make him ineligible for the seat, it likely has weakened his ties to the local Democratic county committee members who are the decision makers in the nomination campaign.
No matter who the Democratic candidate ends up being, I need to emphasize what I wrote on Wednesday:
It’s a Republican district, with a Cook PVI of R+6. This means that on average Republicans score 6% better in this district than they do nationally, basically giving them a built-in 12% edge here. For example, John McCain scored 52% in this district in 2008, 6% better than his national average of 46%.
This makes the NY-26 a very difficult district for Democrats. Not impossible, but very, very difficult. During the height of Democratic electoral dominance in late 2009, the New York House delegation was a well-rounded 27-2 in favor of the blue guys. However, even then the NY-26 remained in red hands. Further, in 2006, then-NRCC chair Tom Reynolds held onto the seat despite becoming embroiled in the Mark Foley House page scandal. Perhaps most notably of all, Carl Paladino, who is from the neighboring NY-27, won the NY-26 quite handily in the 2010 gubernatorial election. Paladino lost by 27% statewide.
This will be a very difficult seat for any Democrat, and a loss is to be expected. Winning by any amount would be shocking, and show that a very strong wind is blowing toward Democrats this cycle.