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McHugh’s Confirmation This Week May Kickstart Congressional Race Here

<br />President Obama nominates John McHugh to become Secretary of the Army
President Obama nominates John McHugh to become Secretary of the Army

The race to become the area’s Congressman may get started sooner than expected.

The U.S. Senate’s Armed Services Committee has set this Thursday as the date for a confirmation hearing for John McHugh to become President Obama’s Secretary of the Army.  McHugh is a member of Congress serving the 23rd Congressional District.  Oswego County is one of the 11 counties in the sprawling district, which is larger than some states.

As soon as McHugh is confirmed, he will leave the House of Representatives.  And as soon as that happens, the race to succeed him begins.  Gov. David Paterson will call a special election.

It was not clear whether the Senate would hold hearings on McHugh before or after its August recess.  If the hearing had been held until after the recess, it’s likely the special election would take place on the same day as other elections, in November.  But confirming McHugh now means that the counties could be forced to hold, and to pay for, a special election in September or October.

McHugh’s confirmation will start a race that has been revving up all summer.

Last week, Republicans picked Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava (R-Gouverneur) to carry their banner in the election.  Scozzafava represents three towns in northern Oswego County as part of her district.  Democrats have not picked a candidate yet, but they know who it won’t be.  State Senate Darrel Aubertine decided not to run.  He was the odds-on favorite to win the special election and his decision throws the race into the tossup category.

National Republicans aimed heavy weapons at Aubertine, preparing and airing a negative TV ad, placing robocalls and sending mailers, but managed to shoot only themselves when he decided a day later not to run.  Meantime, state Conservative Party officials made it clear they will not support Scozzafava because of her positions favoring gay marriage and legal abortion.  They may run their own candidate, and at least a couple of conservatives are lining up for support.

Among the dozen or so Democrats angling to run are former Oswego Mayor and current state medicaid fraud official John Sullivan, former United States Attorney Daniel French, and, possibly, Watertown-area Assemblywoman Addie Jenne Russell.

Aubertine’s departure and the conservative disdain for Scozzafava likely makes this a second-tier race at best.  The district has been in Republican hands since the Civil War, so a Republican win would not be surprising.  At the same time, whoever wins may not be in Congress long.  The district is ripe for being carved up after the 2010 US Census, when the state will lose at least two and possibly three seats in Congress because of population loss.

The risk is particularly high if Republicans hold the Congressional seat while Democrats keep their hold on the State Senate because redistricting is done by the state Legislature.  The distict could be carved up among three Democrats — Dan Maffei of Syracuse, Mike Arcuri of Utica and Mike Murphy of the Albany area.