The 29th in 2008: Back from the Wilderness

The last two elections have shown that the 29th is, at a minimum, a competitive district.  In the Southern 29th, where one-party rule and weak candidates have been the norm, the candidacy of Eric Massa was the final eye-opener in a process started by Sam Barend in 2004.  The long years of 70/30 elections in the 29th are now officially over.  The hard question is predicting what's next.

With a changeover in both houses of Congress, a quagmire in Iraq, and a coming Presidential election, I'm not ready to make any hard predictions about the 2008 race.  However, I do know that I'll be watching four people:  Nancy Pelosi, Randy Kuhl, Louise Slaughter, and Eric Massa.   Each of them has a role to play in shaping the next campaign.

Eric Massa is perhaps the biggest wildcard in the 2008 race.  He made a major personal investment in this year's contest, one which I'm sure he won't abandon without much internal debate.  He has good name recognition, the respect of Democrats (and many Republicans) in the district, and an address book full of contacts.  If he stays in the 29th and finds some kind of visible political appointment, chances are that he'll be running again in 2008.   

If Massa makes himself scarce, or even announces that he's out of politics, then the Democrats will begin the difficult hunt for a credible candidate from the Southern 29th.  That part of the district has been under one-party rule for so long that there's a dearth of potential candidates, yet a candidate from Monroe county has no chance of winning in the South.   This is perhaps the biggest factor influencing the race in '08:  if Massa's out, I'd expect Kuhl to retain the seat.

Nancy Pelosi is the next player in our little drama, and her role is to push legislation through the House.  If she delivers on her 100-hour plan, and if that plan is carefully crafted to gather the votes of Democrats and independent Republicans, and if a lot of the plan seems like no-brainers to the centrist voter, then she might catch John R Kuhl Jr in a trap.   Randy will have to decide if he's part of the core of the loyal opposition, or if he wants to move towards the center.

Pelosi's a smart politician with sharp elbows.  One example of the dilemmas that Kuhl will be facing is the planned vote on allowing Medicare to negotiate pricing with drug companies.  This is a practical, cost-saving step that the VA has been doing for years, but it was written out of the Medicare Part D legislation.  When Pelosi forces a vote on something practical and responsible like that, Kuhl will have to decide whether it's in his best interests to try to spin it to the folks back home, risking the accusation that he's in bed with the drug companies, or vote with the Democrats. 

While it's a sure bet that Randy Kuhl will run in '08, I'll be watching his votes and press releases to see if he's going to stop taking dictation from the Republican leadership.   I'm also curious about whether he'll keep his committee assignments.  I'll also be watching his FEC page to see how being part of the new minority affects his fundraising.  Randy might have to lessen his reliance on corporate PAC donations, and try to raise more money in the district.   I'm also curious about the number of grants and other federal programs he'll announce in 2007 -- I'm guessing a few less than '06.

That brings us to the final character in this play:  Louise Slaughter, the titanium magnolia, who will be Chairman of the Committee on Rules, one of the most powerful positions in the House.  Louise didn't do any campaigning for Eric Massa because she was in bed with a bad case of shingles.  But Louise has a big role to play in the Northern 29th.  Now that she's a power in the House, she'll be bringing home the bacon to Monroe County.   Gone are the days of Tom Reynolds allowing Randy Kuhl to piggyback on his funding announcements.  Louise will do nothing obvious to shut Kuhl and Reynolds out, but she'll quietly keep them out of the picture.  Her revenge will be served cold and without fanfare.

I'd be surprised if Slaughter didn't try to recruit Massa for another run, because the close races in the 29th and in NY-25 will have whet the Democrats' appetite for turnovers in upstate New York.  Some of the seats won in the last go-round, like those previously occupied by Tom Delay and Mark Foley, are likely to revert back to Republicans, so the Democrats have an incentive to invest heavily in the dozen or so districts that had tight races in '06.  As a proven candidate, Massa is the logical pick for another go at Randy Kuhl.   I hope he does it - but that's a selfish wish, since he made this year's race a hell of a lot of fun.


Randy will have to decide if he's part of the core of the loyal opposition, or if he wants to move towards the center.

I bet he moves towards the center. He didn't get to where he is by having convictions.

Maybe, but remember that Randy's also a machine politician, so he might stay loyal to the leadership in the House. It will be interesting to watch.

Don’t foget that it was Louise Slaughter who the one pushing for David Nachbar to jump into the race over the summer. He was the Pittford Bauch & Lomb millionaire/executive who finally bowed out from running in the 29th . (He bowed out only because, as it turned out, he was still registered as a Republican - a “paperwork error”). At that time, Louise was pushing like crazy for a Monroe County candidate. Her argument then was that somebody from the Southern Tier couldn’t deliver the necessary votes from Monroe. The merits of that argument aside, I think it’s power thing. I don’t think Monroe likes being stuck in the 29th district. They want to be the one calling the shots.

The stories I read said she wanted Nachbar to do it because he wouldn't have any trouble raising money, but I'm sure regional power politics also played a major rule. Hopefully the Massa experience, where he was able to raise a pretty good campaign kitty using netroots and personal appeals, and the Jack Davis experience, which showed that simply being a millionaire doesn't mean you're going to be a good candidate, will have convinced her that Massa's a better choice.

I don't think a Monroe candidate can win. Massa got crossover votes in the South that wouldn't be there for someone from Monroe.