House: The GOP has Staten Island blues

Each passing week brings more troublesome news for House Republicans. It is now the end of May, and we are still talking about recruitment failures, albeit for a race that just opened up a few weeks ago. Vito Fossella's decision to not seek re-election in NY-13 opened up a swing district in what is New York City's only competitive seat. But in the space of two weeks, New York Republicans have suffered a series of setbacks which have transformed NY-13 from a likely hold for Republicans into a lean pick-over for Democrats.

The district is separated between Staten Island and Brooklyn, and the Staten Island parties typically endorse a candidate that is then in a strong position to become the party's nominee in the general election. This year, however, Democrats have been engaged in somewhat of a fight between the party's Brooklyn branch and Staten Island branch, with Stephen Harrison, a Brooklyn lawyer who was already in the race before the Fossella scandal and who was the party's nominee in 2006, drawing 43% of the vote, refusing to drop out despite Staten Island's insistence that the nominee has to be from the island. Yesterday, the island's Democrats endorsed city councilman Mike McMahon, who represents Staten Island and who immediately announced that he had the support of Brooklyn leaders.

McMahon, who was among the DCCC's top choices as soon as news broke that Fossella might retire, is the favorite to win the nomination though he could have a nasty fight on his hand with Harrison. But the situation is much worse among Republicans. First, Staten Island DA Daniel Donovan -- who had recently been reelected borough wide with 68% of the vote -- announced he would not run. Then, it was the turn of Stephen Fiala, the commissioner for jurors. And finally, the GOP's third choice, state Senator Andrew Lanza, also declared that he would forgo a congressional run.

This is not the first time that all potential Republican candidates refuse to run in a district that is held by the GOP and that should be not an impossible hold for the party. After all, Staten Island leans Republican and Bush did carry the district in 2004. Tonight, Staten Island's GOP nominated Frank Power, who is thus likely to be the Republican nominee for this open seat. As described by the Staten Island Advocate, Power serves on a whole bunch of boards; his most important position currently is to serve as Staten Island's representative on the MTA board. One factor that could save Republicans here: Power looks like he might have the ability to self-fund his candidacy, which is a huge factor in a district as expansive as any in the NYC market. But the unbalance between the two parties recruitment success and the fact that the Democratic machine will help McMahon win his primary make the Staten Island Councilman the new favorite to replace Fossella.

More generally, Staten Island's drifting out of Republican hands could prove disastrous for the state GOP as they have relied on having a stronghold in this island, especially since their grip on Long Island has steadily -- and at times dramatically -- eroded. Both Rudy Giuliani and Mke Bloomberg got their winning margin here in 1993 and 2000, though the 1993 campaign is particularly associated with Staten Island since a secession referendum boosted turnout on the island.

In other House news, an internal poll conducted for the campaign of Mary Jo Kilroy in OH-15 finds good news for Democrats:

  • Kilroy leads state Senator Steve Stivers 47% to 37% in a district currently held by Republicans.
Like any internal poll, this one ought to be taken with a grain of salt. Kilroy lost one of the tightest House races of the 2006 cycle and the retirement of Rep. Pryce made her an early favorite to pick-up the seat. But Stivers's candidacy is one of the NRCC's most successful recruitment coups and it has kept the race on the toss-up list. For now, Kilroy benefits from a higher name recognition and she is clearly boosted by Bush's low approval rating (only 35% in this district).

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