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Analysis: After Aubertine’s Decision, What Happens Next?

The main effect of Darrel Aubertine’s decision not to run for Congress is that the race for Congress just got a whole lot less interesting and, very likely, a whole lot less nasty and expensive.

Aubertine Thursday backed out of a race that every so-called expert thought certain he’d get into. Those experts included the National Republican Congressional Committee, the group that helps elect Republicans to the House of Representatives. The NRCC spent good money to create an add attacking Aubertine before he even got in the race, spent more money to have a national ad agency buy time on TV stations in Watertown, Syracuse and Plattsburgh for the ad, and even spent a day’s worth of money running the ad before Aubertine pulled out.

The NRCC fired bullets — blanks, as it turned out — that will not be available for Dede Scozzafava once she has a real opponent.

The first question is: who will that opponent be?

Only one Democrat met the party’s deadline of yesterday to apply for the job, and it’s not one of the more prominent Democrats. Among those interested are John Sullivan, former Mayor of Oswego and former co-chair of the state Democratic party; Dan French, a former United States Attorney; former candidates for the Congressional seat Danny Francis and Michael Oot; and newcomer Brian McGrath of Lowville.

It’s possible Aubertine’s decision also lures Watertown area Assemblywoman Addie Jenne Russell into the race.

And there could be other candidates now that Aubertine is out of the way.

Sullivan, as the Watertown Daily Times notes, “has perhaps the most political depth and contacts with party officials in the counties”. He has one other advantage on the other potential Democrats: He’s willing to serve just one or two terms.

In an interview several weeks ago with Oswego County Today, Sullivan said that he’s close to retirement age. The district is a potential target for destruction after the 2010 U.S. Census. New York State will lose at least two and perhaps three seats in Congress because of population losses. If Democrats hold the State Senate in 2012, when reapportionment begins, it’s a good bet that the 23rd District will be carved up among Syracuse Democrat Dan Maffei (the likely winner for Oswego County in this scenario), Utica Democrat Mike Arcuri, and new Albany-area Democrat Mike Murphy.

If a Republican wins the 23rd and Democrats still control the Senate, reapportionment there is all but certain.

In a statement e-mailed to Oswego County Today, Sullivan reaffirmed his willingness to run. “I am a great believer in fate, and if it is meant to be that I should be selected to champion the cause of the hard working people of the 23rd Congressional District as the nominee of the Democratic party, that course will soon become apparent,” he said.

Democratic chairs from the 11 counties of the district plan to talk next week about picking a candidate.

National sources told Liz Benjamin of the NY Daily News that they expected Aubertine to run but that he changed his mind after meeting with Gov. David Paterson and Democratic leaders of the State Senate. It’s pretty clear Aubertine’s decision surprised party leaders, so it’ll take time to come up with Plan B.

Next question: What kind of race will it be?

Very likely a lot less nasty than it would have been with Aubertine in it. This week’s pre-emptive TV ads were just a taste.

It’s easy to remember the two remarkably nasty races run by Aubertine and Assemblyman Will Barclay for the open State Senate seat last year. Clearly, national Republican consultants thought they could slam Aubertine over and over again in the race.

It will be harder to work up a head of negative steam against the other candidates, particularly French, who was a federal prosecutor.

But Scozzafava has come in for some rough treatment of late as well. Blogs on the far right and far left both picked up the story, spread, according to The Hill newspaper, by conservatives, of her ties to a company owned by her brother, for which she was Chief Operating Officer until 2007. The company has more than $200,000 in unpaid tax liens.

Sullivan was implicated during his time as Mayor in a political espionage scandal, for which the person who gathered information on Sullivan’s political rivals was federally prosecuted.

So the potential is there for some negative campaigning, but….

Last question: How much money will pour into this race?

The likely answer: Less than if Aubertine had run.

This wasn’t a top-tier race for either national party. Republicans could be pouring money into a seat that will disappear in four years if they win; Democrats already hold all but three of New York’s Congressional seats and one more would be good for morale but make little practical difference.

And it’s a good bet Scozzafava will attract less national money than a generic Republican candidate because of her support for liberal social issues such as gay marriage.

Said the Watertown Daily Times:

“There’s positively, absolutely no way the Conservative Party would be endorsing DeDe Scozzafava for this seat,” said Jim Kelly, a potential candidate who was campaign manager for former Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s opponent in 2006.

Hannibal resident and soon-to-be-war-veteran Jon Alvarez said he may also seek the conservative nomination, in an e-mail to Oswego County Today.com. “I cannot sit idly by and do nothing while our country is headed towards financial disaster and our elected officials remain out of touch with their electorate and the suffering they face with unprecedented deficit spending and increased taxation,” he wrote.