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NY House Race Seen As Test For GOP, Obama

This article is more than 9 years old.

President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton are lending their political star power to an unlikely Democratic bid to win a special congressional election in an area that's been a Republican bastion for more than a century.

The Nov. 3 contest in upstate New York's 23rd Congressional District, a sprawling, 11-county area where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by 45,000, is shaping up as a test of a struggling GOP and a possible gauge of Obama's coattails.

Obama, who carried the district by 5 percentage points in his landslide victory in New York last year, forced the special election when he named the incumbent, Republican John McHugh, his Army secretary. The president will host a fundraiser for the Democratic candidate, Bill Owens, on Tuesday in New York City.

In a fundraising e-mail for Owens, Clinton called the special election "bigger than just one candidate or one office ... victory or defeat will also be seen as a referendum on President Obama's agenda."

Owens, 60, a lawyer and retired Air Force captain, is one of three candidates competing for the seat. The others are Republican Dierdre Scozzafava, 49, a state Assemblywoman, and Conservative candidate Doug Hoffman, 59, a businessman.

Democrats see an opening in the traditionally Republican district because Scozzafava and Hoffman are splitting the conservative vote.

Republicans have complained that Obama picked McHugh for the Army job because he viewed the 23rd as vulnerable. Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand won the nearby 20th district, another longtime GOP stronghold, in 2006, and Democrat Scott Murphy won a close special election in March to hold the seat after Gillibrand was appointed to the U.S. Senate.

The compressed time frame of a special election - McHugh was confirmed only last month - leaves voters with little-known candidates and little time for introductions.

This program aired on October 18, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

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