Rochester Democrat and Chronicle - Western New York Political Races Reflect National Trend
Republicans nationally are scrambling to hold on to as many seats in Congress as possible while they grapple with a Democratic fundraising advantage and a mood around the country that generally does not favor Republicans.
The fight is no more pronounced than in Monroe County, where the retirement of two influential Republican congressmen Reps. Tom Reynolds of Clarence, Erie County, and James Walsh of Onondaga will create major changes to the region's Washington delegation.
Despite Democrats' perceived advantage, Republican Chris Lee of Clarence, Erie County, has raised more money in his 26th District campaign against Democrat Alice Kryzan of Amherst, Erie County. This congressional race will likely be a test of the strength of Barack Obama's coattails.
Kryzan faces an enrollment disadvantage of 9 percentage points in the district. But she is hoping her candidacy gets a boost from her message of creating green-collar jobs at home and the popularity in New York of Obama, her party's presidential candidate.
A poll released this week by Siena College shows Obama ahead of Republican Sen. John McCain by 31 percentage points in New York.
The 26th District is largely suburban and rural, with Republicans making up 41 percent of the electorate, compared with Democrats' 32 percent, according to spring statistics. The district includes most of Greece and Parma, single election districts in Chili and Hamlin, all of Ogden, Riga, Wheatland, Sweden and Clarkson, parts of Orleans, Niagara and Erie counties and all of Genesee, Wyoming and Livingston counties.
In the 25th District, however, Obama's coattails likely won't be necessary.
The district is losing an influential member of the House, Walsh, a Republican from the Syracuse area and a 19-year congressional veteran whose position on the Appropriations Committee brought millions back to the district.
Walsh will likely be replaced by Dan Maffei of DeWitt, Onondaga County, who was up 18 points against his opponent, Republican Dale Sweetland of Fabius, Onondaga County, in a poll conducted Oct. 1 and 2. Maffei came within 2 percentage points of defeating Walsh two years ago.
Maffei, a former congressional staffer who works for a capital management firm, has raised more than $2 million in his bid. He also has been helped by the arm of the Democratic Party that helps House candidates financially.
Sweetland, a former farmer and crop insurance salesman, has raised about $366,000 and has not been helped by national Republicans.
The district includes parts of Irondequoit and Penfield, Webster, part of Cayuga County and all of Wayne and Onondaga counties. Republicans have a 4 percentage point advantage over Democrats, according to statistics released last spring. Since then, Democratic enrollment has grown in Monroe and Onondaga counties.
Also running is Green Populist candidate Howie Hawkins, 55, who thinks government should guarantee the right to a living wage job, offer drug treatment on demand and immediately withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan. Hawkins has run for office 13 times before, including bids for mayor of Syracuse and U.S. Senate.
A clear choice
The choice between Kryzan, 60, and Lee, 44, could not be clearer, the candidates say. Lee supports alternative energy, but does not believe it is the solution to the country's energy crisis. Kryzan believes America's addiction to fossil fuels must end and other sources of energy must be developed, including solar and wind power. She wants the district to become a capital for manufacturing green energy-producing equipment.
The candidates also differ on health care. Lee doesn't believe the government should spend more money on health care than it already does and that efficiencies in the system must be created. Kryzan supports universal health care.
On the economy, Kryzan supports help for small businesses, as does Lee, though Lee would like to see decreased regulation of business. He kicked off his campaign saying he wanted to "cut government red tape." He supports regulation of banks.
"I'm running as a business person trying to get something done," Lee said.
He supports the Bush tax cuts and lower taxes in general, saying that when taxes get too high, they discourage businesses from growing.
Contrary to negative ads produced by the National Republican Congressional Committee, Kryzan said raising taxes has never been part of her plan. She doesn't plan to hold back on her plans for investments in alternative energies, health care and education, despite the current economic crisis.
"I see myself as a fiscally responsible person," she said.
The campaign between the candidates, neither of whom has held public office before, has grown heated.
Lee has been attacked for "sending jobs to China" while Kryzan has faced criticism over her work as a lawyer for Occidental Chemical during Love Canal.
Lee said his family business, looking for new markets, hired employees in China so the company would have access to the market there so it could hire more people in the United States.
Kryzan has the endorsements of the plaintiffs' lawyers in the Love Canal case and said she worked to settle the case.
Both candidates have called for television ads produced on the other's behalf to be taken off the air.
Kryzan said an advertisement paid for by the NRCC distorts her law record, while Lee said an advertisement paid for by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee doesn't fairly state facts surrounding his family's business, International Motion Control, which sold for $395 million last year.
Money spent on ads by these committees are made without the consent or approval of the candidates.
Lee is the Republicans' chosen successor to Reynolds, in part because he could fund his own campaign. He has pledged to spend $1 million of his own money in the race. He has so far put $850,000 of his own funds into his war chest. He has raised about $922,000, not including his loans.
Kryzan has so far spent $157,000 of her own money and has raised an additional $709,000.
The campaign in the 25th District has not generated as much heat because the race is not believed to be as close.
In the race to succeed Walsh, Maffei, 40, has also made the case for bringing green jobs to the district, while Sweetland, 59, said he would bring a common-sense approach to Washington.
Maffei favors infrastructure investment, public financing of political campaigns and more federal assistance for high home heating costs. He also supports a national strategy to remove the country's dependence on fossil fuels.
He said having "a more organized" delegation from upstate New York will help the region and said federal tax reform that would close loopholes is necessary but won't be the first issue the next Congress will tackle.
He supports a publicly financed safety net program for health care, saying private health insurers have not brought down insurance costs.
"It hasn't done the kinds of things we wanted it to do," Maffei said.
Sweetland, who has held public office for 20 years, has run on his record as the Onondaga County Legislature chairman, saying he knows how federal programs are implemented at the local level, though he's not part of Washington's broken system of doing business.
"People are looking for an independent voice who is not beholden to the lobbyists and senior members of Congress," Sweetland said.
He doesn't think the country is ready for a nationalized health care system, thinks investments need to be made in vocational training and that personal finance instruction should be added to high school curriculum.
Sweetland supports expanded drilling, while Maffei said he would not support one until he was convinced expanded drilling would help consumers, not only oil companies.