Alert: Punditry Ahead

Now that I've put away my Kwanzaa decorations and recovered from my New Year's hangover, let's take a fresh look at the 29th district. What were the significant events of 2009, and what does each candidate have to do in 2010?

I'll start with the challenger in this race, Tom Reed. Reed hasn't impressed, to say the least. Though he enters the race as a fresh face, he's quickly accumulated baggage in the form of self-inflicted wounds. Reed wants to paint himself as an anti-stimulus warrior, and he wants to walk the walk by refusing stimulus funds. As quoted in today's Star-Gazette:

"What I am hearing is that we have to draw a line in the sand," he said. "People are looking at the record levels of fiscal irresponsibility with the stimulus and now the second stimulus. It's not sustainable. We are talking trillions of dollars. One of our campaign slogans is that our fiscal security is equal to our national security."

Unfortunately, Reed's actions have been endangering his campaign, if not our national security. First, Reed's LLC took over a million bucks in grants from New York State. Reed argues that this isn't "stimulus money" and therefore isn't evil. I think he's the only person who takes that argument seriously.

Reed's second foul-up was well-documented in a recent Corning Leader editorial:

More recently, Reed flipflopped on a city council vote for the city to accept $210,000 in federal stimulus money to buy three mass transit buses.

Reed voted “yes” on the funding when it was originally brought before the council earlier this year, prior to his congressional run. Last week he cast the lone dissenting vote against the bus purchase, claiming it was an improper use of federal stimulus money.

One of the fundamental roles of the 29th's Representative, whether he's a Republican or Democrat, is to bring home money from Washington, DC. The vast majority of press related to our federal delegation involves grants and loans for projects in the district. With New York receiving far less than $1 back for every buck we send to DC, it's political suicide for Reed to reject the biggest pot of federal money ever offered to our state. Yet Reed has decided to make it a cornerstone of his campaign.

Reed seems like a nice guy who people like. Even though he's a lawyer, he has a good personal story and deep roots in the Southern Tier. But he needs to find some issues that resonate with more than a few deficit hawks.

Unfortunately, Reed is saddled with the grossly ineffective NRCC which, according to today's Star-Gazette piece, thinks that the way to beat Massa is to tie him to Nancy Pelosi. The NRCC has gone back-and-forth on this. When Obama took a little dip in the polls earlier this year, they want to run against him. But their 2008 campaign painted Nancy as the she-devil, to little effect. Since Massa has voted against Pelosi on a fair number of occasions, I don't see how this issue resonates in the 29th.

Aside from that dumb piece of strategy, the NRCC isn't raising the serious money needed to capitalize on the opportunity of an off-year election in tough economic times. Reed's first quarter of fundraising tapped old guard Republicans in and around the district. That's a good source of start-up cash, but to raise the millions needed for a competitive race, Reed needs to attend a lot of fundraisers, and he needs help from Republican PACs. Reed's second money report, due out mid-month, will be a telling indicator of whether he's going to be able to run a real campaign.

Tom Reed has a long way to go to be a worthy opponent to Eric Massa, who battled his way to the 29th seat against long odds. The good news for Reed is that there's still plenty of time to raise money and hone his strategy. But that strategy needs to be his, because a cookie-cutter approach outsourced from DC or Fox News won't win in the 29th. I'll explain why in my post on Massa, coming up next.