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'Surprises' Await in Tight House Race

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- The local visitors bureau here has been using a catchy slogan to attract people: "Syracuse ... We'll Surprise You!"

Capitol Briefing must say that he has not yet been surprised on his visit, but then he just arrived a little while ago, so all he's seen so far is his unsurprising hotel room and the view from it, which turns out to be of another hotel. Since the town's slogan is not, in fact, "Syracuse ... We Have Hotels!", more exciting destinations surely await in the next couple of days.

Today and tomorrow will be spent with the two candidates currently sparring to replace retiring Rep. James Walsh (R) here in the Empire State's 25th district, so before we start shaking hands and kissing babies with the two hopefuls, let's get some background on the race.

Two years ago, Walsh won his 10th term in the House by just two points -- 3,400 votes -- over Dan Maffei (D), who grew up in Syracuse and worked for several prominent New York lawmakers, including the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Rep. Charles Rangel, before returning home to run for office.

Walsh has generally been reelected easily throughout his career; he had no opposition at all in 2004, even though Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) won the district in the presidential race. But the 2006 contest was particularly tough, as Walsh spent $1.8 million (Maffei spent $900,000) just to win by a hair.

Maffei essentially started his 2008 campaign the day after his last bid ended. And this past January, Walsh announced that this term would be his last. "It's time to go," he said. "I never thought I would stay in Washington this long. Ever."

Did Walsh see the writing on the wall? With the Republican brand in decline in the state and a presidential campaign topping the ticket, did he fear that he would be on the wrong end of a rematch with Maffei? We don't know for sure, but we do know that Maffei is now considered the favorite in November over former Onondaga Legislature Chairman Dale Sweetland (R).

The Rothenberg Political Report rates this contest as "Democrat Favored," one of only two seats currently held by the GOP that falls into that category. The other is New York's 13th district, where Republicans have been in disarray since scandal-plagued Rep. Vito Fossella (R) announced his retirement.

As of June 30, Maffei had $961,000 in the bank and had raised a total of $1.3 million, while Sweetland, who got a much later start, had just $108,000 on hand and a total of $134,000 raised by the same date. That cash advantage allowed Maffei to go on the air with TV ads a month ago.

Maffei's ads, and the campaign in general, have been focused mostly on the economy. The Syracuse area, like many in the Northeast, has been in transition for several years now. It has lost manufacturing jobs but gained in some service sectors. It's also been losing population, as younger workers move elsewhere for jobs. Both candidates' schedules are packed with visits to local businesses, so we'll hear lots more about the economic situation between now and Wednesday.

Maffei may appear to have the upper hand -- there hasn't been any publicly released polling of the race since April -- but his victory is by no means assured. Walsh did win in 2006, and Kerry carried this district in 2004 by just two points. This is certainly not a solid Democratic seat. Sweetland has been attacking Maffei for collecting "Washington Insider Campaign Cash." Like other Republicans across the country, Sweetland is working the energy issue hard and calling for more domestic and offshore oil drilling.

That's all for now. Capitol Briefing will leave you with this helpful list of potential story ideas about Syracuse. Should he skip the House race and just write about "the Great New York State Fair's annual top-secret Butter Sculpture?"

By Ben Pershing  |  August 12, 2008; 6:00 AM ET
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Next: Are GOP Moderates an Endangered Species?


I am a life long Democratic New Yorker. We NY Democrats must send a message to the NY Party about its shameful behavior during the presidential primary that continues to date.
I urge all true democratic Democrats in NY to vote for the top of the ticket & then reject the Democratic candidates for all other offices.
(Don't tell me about Clinton being a NY candidate. She's not a New Yorker & has done nothing for NY.)

Posted by: Martha | August 12, 2008 12:40 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: delvara | August 12, 2008 12:54 PM | Report abuse

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