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DeDe Scozzafava. She's in.
DeDe Scozzafava. She's in.

Race for 23rd Congressional district takes shape

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John McHugh is still Congressman in Washington. His confirmation hearings to become Secretary of the Army haven't even been scheduled yet. But the race to replace him is already running fast and furious. On Wednesday, Republican leaders in the 23rd district anointed Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava to be their candidate. And last night, Senate Senator Darrel Aubertine announced he would not run for the Democrats. There have been robocalls, attack ads, national attention, but still no election scheduled yet. David Sommerstein's been following it all and joins Martha Foley for an update.

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Darrel Aubertine. He's out.

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David Sommerstein
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Transcript:

John McHugh is still a Congressman in Washington.  His confirmation hearings to become Secretary of the Army haven't even been scheduled yet.  But the race to replace him is already running fast and furious. There's been national money and national attention, including robo-calls, and television attack ads. 

On Wednesday, Republican leaders in the 23rd district anointed Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava to be their candidate.  Last night, State Senator Darrel Aubertine announced he would not run for the Democrats.

He was widely considered the Democrats' best chance to take this Republican-heavy district for the first time in more than a century.  Other potential candidates were waiting for him to make his decision.

That decision was complicated by the implosion of the New York State Senate.  If Aubertine ran for Congress and won, the Senate would return to a tie - like the deadlock that sent the major parties into a chaotic five-week chaotic struggle for majority power.  While national Democrats wanted him to run, many New York Democrats didn't. 

In the end the latter prevailed.  In his prepared statement last night, Aubertine said his priority is to continue the work he started in the state Senate, that he has a duty to finish out the current session, and that he's committed to his constituency.

There's also speculation about other reasons.  One:  the attack ads and robocalls run by the National Republican Campaign Committee linking Aubertine's votes in Albany to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  In his statement, Aubertine slammed the ads. He said, "Washington Republicans are going extinct," and, "contributors should question why the money they've given was squandered here for no good reason at all."

Two: that he didn't want to run against Dede Scozzafava.  Like Aubertine, she's a moderate.  And they've been friends as they've worked closely in Albany over the years for the North Country.

Scozzafava's from Gouverneur, just down Route 11 from Canton.  She was mayor there before becoming Assemblywoman in 1999.  She has a background in banking. Scozafava supports same sex marriage, the right to an abortion, and she opposes the death penalty. 

Conservatives are closing ranks against Scozzafava.  The popular national blogger, Red State, called her a "socially and fiscally liberal loser."  One of his blog posts was entitled "what a Republican suicide looks like."

Jim Kelly - another potential candidate - told the Watertown Daily Times - quote -- "There's positively, absolutely no way the Conservative Party would be endorsing DeDe Scozzafava for this seat" State Conservative Party Chairman Michael Long threatened yesterday to bring forward another candidate to challenge her.

Yesterday, Scozzafava responded that she's "very much for individual rights."  "If they choose to oppose me on the basis of those two issues, there's not much I can do about it," she said. Republicans need to focus on "the things that can unify us."

Scozzafava hasn't been seriously challenged in a campaign since her first run for Assembly. She's low-key, and isn't used to the bright lights this campaign threatens. She'll continue to face probing questions about her role in her brother Thomas Scozzafava's embattled company, Seaway Valley Capital, which owns Hackett's department stores and owes almost 200,000 dollars in back taxes via businesses it bought in Jefferson County.

With Aubertine out of the race, Democrats are focusing on regional favorites: Thousand Islands-based attorney Daniel French and former assistant US Attorney in Watertown, John Sullivan.  Former Upstate Democratic Committee chair Stuart Brody of Essex County has been mentioned as a possibility.  So has Madison County attorney Michael Oot, who ran against John McHugh last year.  The Albany Times-Union also mentions a NYC lawyer named Brian McGrath who's from Lowville and has ties to the dairy industry there.

June O'Neill, the out-going chairwoman of the state democratic committee said this morning she's not  worried...she pointed across the North Country to Scott Murphy's victory in the 20th district.  He was an unknown running against political veteran Jim Tedisco.

'The speculation was rampant," she said. "How can you beat a 27-year incumbent with nobody, and the answer was just watch us.  This seat, above all, has never had a Democrat represented, so it's clearly an uphill battle and we're prepared for a real fight."

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