Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has never had it easy since taking office after being appointed by Governor David Paterson in January 2009. Appointed by an embattled governor and replacing a nationally known personality, the shift from conservative Democrat to Hilary Clinton’s replacement was almost an unwinnable situation. Add to that the fact that she shares her New York representation with Chuck Schumer, and you have a woman that lives in the shadow of a senator that can out-left her, especially on issues like guns, where Gillibrand’s views better reflect those of her upstate home district than they might further downstate.
There are two things to watch in this race: the support that Gillibrand should be able to count on from her own party and the success of the new Republican chairman, Edward Cox. He is the husband of Patricia Nixon Cox, the former president’s daughter.
If Gillibrand has no primary fights with Bill Thompson or some other well-known Democrat, she should be able to get the national support from her party. This is a seat that will require some help from the president, and he is pretty good about making the necessary appearances – although sometimes presidential help can work against a candidate. But one would be crazy to turn down his fundraising magnetism.
If the Republican Party in New York cannot mount a serious campaign built around a strong candidate to challenge Gillibrand, the party is finished. Ed Cox fought hard to be state chairman against some voices that felt he was not conservative enough. This is his first real test. His party has a few real electable candidates for this seat, and it is his job to not botch it by having them bloody each other to the point where none of them has a chance to get elected.
Unfortunately, Rick Lazio’s run for governor might evaporate some of the fund raising dollars that are out there. These are tough times, how many times can the same people get hit up for cash? The Republicans have in their field Bruce Blakeman, former Nassau County legislator and member of the board of governors for the New York New Jersey Port Authority. Joining Blakeman is former upstate congressman, Joe Dio Guardi, who might be better known as the father of American Idol’s Kara Dio Guardi.
Dio Guardi is a stand-out candidate because he has been warning anyone who would listen in the last 20 years that deficit reduction is job one when it comes to national policy. Will that message resonate with people in November? Budgeting is never a sexy issue, and Dio Guardi often speaks to his bread-and-butter audience, comprised to a great deal of Albanian and Italian-Americans upstate that might have other concerns than budgeting. For political junkies, Dio Guardi is the exact kind of politician as former Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico – he could bring a sense of adulthood to the senate, but Dio Guardi has been out of the show for a while. Maybe he can get Simon Cowell to utter the phrase “Congratulations, Joe, you’re going to Washington.”
Ed Cox has to find a way to win an election or two this year. There is no reason, with Albany in knots and an incumbent Democrat that is less than loved by her party, that he should not engineer a real campaign. It’s not uncommon for GOP candidates to get ballot access only to find out later that they are on their own when it comes to that stretch from August to November. This election is as much about Ed Cox as it is about Blakeman, Dio Guardi, or Lazio.
We might see a ticket type of campaign, where the Republican senate candidate is tied to Lazio and they hit many of the same campaign sites together in a “change New York” message. That could be a useful strategy that allows candidates to save money, as long as Lazio doesn’t drop the gloves during the debates like he did in 2000.
New York deserves good candidates on both sides for this senate race. There is too much at stake, with troops overseas in hot spots, and a deficit that is almost to a point where we might not get hold of it. Hopefully, we will keep these candidates to those two issues more than anything this summer and fall.