Obama’s Upcoming Appointment Of McHugh Sets Up Potential Nail-Biter For Special Election

June 2, 2009 7:04 a.m.

With reports coming in that President Obama will appoint Rep. John McHugh (R-NY) as the new Secretary of the Army, the political world will now be gearing up for what could be yet another high-stakes special Congressional election in upstate New York, so soon after we already had a photo-finish for the former House seat of appointed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). And so far, both parties seem to be downplaying expectations.

The district itself has all the makings of a swing seat. President Obama carried it 52%-47% in 2008, just slightly behind the curve of his overall 53%-46% national victory over John McCain. Before that, it voted 51%-47% for George W. Bush in 2004. Compare this to the NY-20 special election, which was won by Democrat Scott Murphy by a razor-thin margin, where Obama had carried it 51%-48% in 2008, and Bush had taken it 53%-45% in 2004. So on paper, this could be a potential Dem pickup in the special election.So far, though, both sides are painting a good picture for the other guy. A Republican source points out that a local state Senate seat flipped from the GOP to the Democrats last year, and that this is a more Dem-leaning district than NY-20 was.

A Democratic source, meanwhile, gives the opposite message. “The thing to keep in mind is that unlike the special election in New York’s 20th District, Sen. Gillibrand had a really strong campaign structure in place — Democrats haven’t really played in New York’s 23rd District in years.” The source added: “We’d have a chance at winning this seat, though it certainly still favors a Republican candidate.”

It’s too soon to have any potential candidate names out there, and the date of the special election itself is not yet known. First of all, Gov. David Paterson (D) has some leeway for setting the date after a vacancy occurs — and of course the vacancy hasn’t occurred yet, and probably won’t until McHugh is confirmed and then resigns his seat.

Late Update: A Democratic source in Albany says that the best potential Dem candidate, state Sen. Darrel Aubertine — the man who picked up that state Senate seat mentioned above — could possibly face some pressure to not run for Congress. If he were to win, this would place his state Senate seat up for grabs in a chamber that the Dems now only control by a 32-30 margin.

Late Late Update: Aubertine spokesman Drew Mangione just told me: “It’s too early to comment, but the Senator is committed to his work in the New York state Senate.”

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