NY-29: 2008 So Far

The 2008 cycle in the 29th district has been a much different story than the midterm election two short years ago.  While incumbent Randy Kuhl is still going to be hard to beat in this heavily Republican district, the 2006 efforts of challenger Eric Massa have set the stage for a much tougher fight this cycle.

In April 2006, former Navy Commander Massa had raised $250K and was just beginning to get his campaign  organization together.  This cycle, Massa is pushing $900K, he's had campaign staff on board for months, and he's become a fixture as the head of the loyal opposition in the Southern Tier. 

In 2006, at the end of his Freshman term, Randy Kuhl's fundraising report was full of "automatic" PAC donations from corporations that had business with the committees upon which he sits.  Kuhl also received some money from labor because of his pro-labor history in the New York Senate.  This time around, Eric Massa has already garnered an AFL-CIO early endorsement, and Kuhl is $150K off his 2006 moneymaking pace.

One of the cornerstones of Kuhl's 2006 campaign was his proud claim that he held yearly constituent meetings in every town in the 29th.  In the Northern 29th, which contains the affluent, more Democratic Rochester suburbs, those meetings were the subject of anti-war protests in 2007.  This year, Kuhl changed the format of those meetings to constituent meetings, by appointment only.  This move has been controversial and certainly will be a campaign issue.

In 2006, Kuhl's twenty-year relationship with the Southern Tier media generally guaranteed that his press releases and conferences were well-covered, and that his message went out without being challenged.  Today, while Kuhl's minor photo ops still generate press, stories based on his substantive press releases are usually contested with quotes from Eric Massa.  Kuhl's op-eds are also balanced by Massa op-eds or letters to the editor.  Massa is often quoted in Southern Tier papers when reporters need a local opinion on national issues like Iraq, or if they want a prominent Democrat's view on the primary contest. 

Media coverage in the Northern 29th is a different story.  Because Monroe County (Rochester and its suburbs) contains parts of four Congressional Districts, Kuhl or Massa are infrequently mentioned in the local media.  Print coverage by the dominant local paper, Gannett's Democrat and Chronicle, is especially light after rounds of cutbacks and resource re-allocation.  Television coverage is also rationed between the four area seats, and neither Massa nor Kuhl spend much time on Monroe County screens.

Local party support in the 29th is generally weak for Democrats and strong for Republicans.  The Monroe County Democratic Party's strength comes from urban Rochester, which isn't part of the 29th.  In the recent legislative elections, Democrats fielded some good candidates but were still mainly beaten in the suburbs.  Part of the reason for this loss was the inability of the sclerotic MCDC organization to field a candidate for County Executive.  This allowed incumbent Maggie Brooks to use her warchest to retain a one-vote majority in the county legislature. 

Though Massa can expect almost zero support from the weak and inwardly-focused MCDC, he got an unexpected boost from Brooks, whose misnamed FAIR tax-reallocation plan is enormously unpopular in the suburbs.  Suburban school districts were recently victorious in a court battle to overturn the plan, which would have caused multi-million dollar shortfalls at schools that regularly make nationwide top-100 lists.

The Southern Tier Democratic Party organizations have generally had it tough in the most Republican part of New York State.  In Corning, Massa's home, Democratic Mayor Frank Coccho lost a re-election bid in 2007, and there are few Democrats in city or county offices in the rest of the Southern Tier.  As a charismatic leader who actively participates in city and county elections, Massa's popularity with Southern Tier Democrats remains high.  Massa's hard work on behalf of local committees was rewarded with speedy and unanimous endorsements by Southern Tier committees when David Nachbar, a Rochester businessman, began organizing his quickly-aborted primary challenge. 

As a fixture in Southern Tier politics for more than two decades, Randy Kuhl  can expect the same high level of support in 2008 from Southern Tier Republicans as he's enjoyed almost 30 years of State Senate and Congressional races.  He will also get a boost from Steve Minarik's Monroe County Republican Party.  Minarik, a highly-disciplined and ruthless pro, recently purged the Republican committee in the town of Mendon, an affluent Monroe suburb, after that party lost some seats in the town election.  Minarik's housecleaning and leadership will serve Kuhl well, and he can expect strong turnout from 29th district Republicans in Monroe County and the Southern Tier.

With no primary challenge expected in either party, Kuhl and Massa will be able to concentrate their efforts on the Fall election.  Massa has already been challenging Kuhl to debates at every opportunity.   At this point in the race, it appears that Republicans are unable to field good candidates in NY-25 and NY-26.  This means that the 29th  might be the hardest fought contest in New York this Fall.


This is a savvy analysis (as usual). Some are speculating down this way that Randy may win by 10 points over his opponent this time.

There you go speculating again...

Just for the record, the former Mayor of Corning, Franck Coccho, would probably have been voted out of office even if he were a Republican.

There's no way either candidate will win by ten points.

I love comments like "some are speculating that...". I mean, on the basis of what? Why would people waste time making predictions like that with no basis for these predictions?

Ha ha---we Southern Tier types can't help but speculate, lol!

Fair enough, PYP.

But seriously -- no way either candidate wins by 10, barring something crazy happening.