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GOP Targets Conservative-Leaning Districts In N.Y.


Several states hold primary elections today. And as we have been hearing, there's a widespread belief that Republicans will make significant gains come November. But to win a majority in the House, it appears Republicans will need to capture Democratic seats in some of the bluest states in the country.

Republican leaders in New York think they have a very real shot at doing just that. They're targeting five conservative-leaning districts, as North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann reports.

BRIAN MANN: Beginning in 2004, New York State became a king of Bermuda Triangle for Republicans. House seats that were GOP strongholds for decades fell off the map one after another. Bill Owens was the first Democrat since the Civil War to win the 23rd district seat in northern New York. He stood this summer on the shore of Lake Champlain, unveiling a harbor project paid for by the federal stimulus program he voted for.

Representative BILL OWENS (Democrat, New York): We're repairing something that was extremely old, a potential hazard, and it's been done in a way that took proper advantage of the stimulus dollars.

MANN: Owens acknowledges that the political mood in the country has changed since last November when he won a special election here. But he says voters in his district are still more interested in local, bread-and-butter issues like this project.

Rep. OWENS: No one asks me about the macro issues. They ask about the micro issues. How is this affecting me? How is this affecting me? What can you do to help with this?

MANN: In many of�New�York's most competitive upstate districts, including the 23rd,�Republicans�still hold a sizable voter enrollment advantage. Jimmy Vielkind is a political reporter with the Albany Times-Union newspaper.

Mr. JIMMY VIELKIND (Political Reporter, Albany-Times Union): The GOP considers it their ground still.

MANN: He says the Democratic surge in�New�York, which started about six years ago, was driven in part by temporary factors, including anger over George W. Bush and the soaring popularity of Barack Obama. Vielkind things the mood in New York's more rural and suburban districts has shifted back toward the GOP.

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MANN: Former Army Colonel Chris Gibson is one of a�new�slate of stronger, better-funded candidates recruited this year by the GOP. He's running in the 20th House district and says people here are ready for a change.

Mr. CHRIS GIBSON (Republican Candidate, House of Representatives): So what we want to target is taxes, regulations and health care costs. So that's the first thing we need to do, is get the economy going with targeted tax and regulatory relief and repealing and replacing the health care bill.

MANN: Democrats, including Long Island Congressman Steve Israel, acknowledge that�Republicans�are reenergized. But Israel says his party still has a powerful grassroots machine, including labor unions and fundraising networks built up over the last half-decade.

Representative STEVE ISRAEL (Democrat, New York): Throughout�New�York,�our candidates have a significant advantage in fundraising, a significant advantage in their door-to-door canvassing, and a significant advantage because the�Republicans�are so divided.

MANN: Republicans here have been plagued this year by some nasty internal battles. Conservative Doug Hoffman emerged last year as a national Tea Party leader when he defeated the Republican candidate in a special election. He's running again in the 23rd House district, but he sparked fresh anger among GOP leaders by announcing that he'll campaign as a third-party conservative if he loses today's Republican primary.

Mr. DOUG HOFFMAN (Republican Candidate, House of Representatives): People think that I'm the spoiler because I say I'm not going to get out of the race. Well, people that get on the conservative line have to stay on the conservative line once they take it.

MANN: Conservatives are also considering a potentially divisive third-party challenge in a House race on Long Island.

Despite those hurdles, Republicans have a strong shot at winning at least one new seat in New York, in the western district once held by Democrat Eric Massa, who resigned following a scandal last March.

For NPR News, I'm Brian Mann.

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WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

United States & World Morning Edition
Brian Mann
Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.