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Times Herald-Record - Lalor Seeking Votes Everywhere

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Location: Peekskill, NY

Times Herald-Record - Lalor Seeking Votes Everywhere

Underdog vet meeting folks nearly nonstop

By Alexa James

Kieran Lalor pulls his SUV up to the gas pumps and climbs out, a stack of his campaign brochures in hand. As he fills up, he scans the empty rides parked around him: a red pickup with Vietnam veteran plates and a black SUV with a Barack Obama bumper sticker.

It's still early on a Thursday morning, but Lalor is talking fast as espresso, ready to tell his 60-second life story to anyone in earshot.

When the driver in the red pickup returns, Lalor reaches out for a handshake and asks him about his military service.

The name's Paul Marco and he's a former Marine, just like Lalor.

"Do you mind if I give you some campaign literature? I'm trying to become the first Iraq vet in the U.S. Congress."

Raised in Wappingers Falls, Lalor worked at a gas station to pay his way through Providence College in Rhode Island. He spent two years teaching high school social studies at Our Lady of Lourdes in Poughkeepsie, then joined the Marine Reserves in 2000. After a tour in Iraq in 2003, he went to law school at Pace University, where he met his wife, Mary Jo. They have two girls, Katherine, 2, and Riley, 1, and a son due in December.

Marco slaps a Lalor magnet on his truck and introduces him to another Marine — the Obama fan parked nearby.

Larry Peruyero is a retired New York City police detective. Lalor's father-in-law was NYPD. Turns out, they know each other, and by the time Lalor fills his tank, he's pretty sure he's got two more votes.

This is what he does all day.

Lalor quit his job as a night security guard in July to campaign full-time for a House of Representatives seat. In the mornings, after Mary Jo, a teacher, leaves for work, he spends time with the kids in a small condo strewn with toys. When grandma arrives, he dashes off to the festivals, business expos, golf tournaments and pancake breakfasts.

At a barbecue for senior citizens in Warwick, Lalor says he met 700 old folks. "I shook every one of their hands."

He even introduced himself to the cookout's cleaning crew, to no avail.

"Why you talking to us?" the guys quipped. "We're in jail, man."

Lalor shrugs: "If it's possible to campaign too hard, that's what I'm doing."

At 33, with no political experience, the Peekskill Republican is gunning for an office on Capitol Hill, aiming to oust freshman Democrat John Hall, 60, in the 19th District.

Lalor's been a longshot from the start — the anticipated also-ran who became the GOP's only taker.

The 19th District, which includes parts of Orange, Rockland, Putnam, Dutchess and Westchester counties, was GOP country until 2006, when Hall's grassroots campaign narrowly upset well-financed incumbent Sue Kelly.

Registered Republicans still outnumber Democrats in the district by nearly 2,000, according to the most recent state Board of Elections figures.

The National Republican Congressional Committee targeted Hall's seat as one of the key spots to recapture come November. Suitors included Katonah big shot Andrew Saul, vice chairman of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, who dropped out abruptly last fall; former Congressman Joseph DioGuardi, an Ossining accountant who's lost several bids since 1988; and Westchester Legislator George Oros, an attorney from Cortlandt Manor who bowed out after losing the district's endorsement.

Lalor became the party's unconventional choice, a young rookie with no personal wealth and no political pedigree.

"I'm a stocky, bald, Irish Sarah Palin," he jokes.

Don't think that hasn't helped him. Folks constantly contact his campaign office in search of Palin lawn signs.

This presidential race has set the table for new blood, and Lalor says he fits the bill.

Named after an Irish saint, Kieran Lalor sports the scrappy demeanor of a guy who grew up in the middle of a big brood. He's been a teacher, a bouncer and a waiter. Running for office, he says, is not unlike waiting tables at Olive Garden.

"You hustle, you make people laugh, and you anticipate their needs."

Lalor's campaign has cast his opponent as a liberal puppet, a hippy rock star out of touch with the Hudson Valley.

Though Hall has spent much of his first term championing veterans benefits legislation, Lalor says Hall is just "trying to look moderate" and that his "concern for veterans is driven by pure political ambition."

The Veterans of Foreign Wars Political Action Committee endorsed Lalor over Hall, who sits on the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

"Mr. Hall and the entire 110th Congress were very generous to veterans this year," said Karl Rohde, state legislative director for the VFW PAC. "However, Mr. Hall has never been part of the veterans community ... he has no credentials."

Lalor and Hall also spar over national energy plans. Lalor would like to see more offshore oil drilling and more nuclear power plants. He recently visited the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Buchanan and declared it a safe, clean piece of the state's energy plan.

Hall, who has not visited Indian Point, is working with the state and assorted environmental groups to shut it down. He's pushed renewable wind, solar and hydro power as energy alternatives and fought to restrict new oil drilling leases.

Lalor successfully petitioned for an "Energy Security Now!" third-party line on the ballot, but withdrew it after Hall's camp challenged the signatures and campaign tactics.

Fundraising has also been a challenge for Lalor's campaign. The Federal Election Commission tallied just $490,000 in Lalor's war chest at the end of September. Hall's coffers had breached $2 million.

Overall, the race for the 19th District has remained relatively mellow. Hall has been tied up in Washington working on the economic bailout plan, while Lalor spends much of his time introducing himself.

At a business expo in Putnam County, he visits every booth: the blacktop contractor, the steakhouse, the pet headstones stand.

At his own booth, his cousin-turned-campaign-counsel, Bill Lalor, puts a positive spin on their underdog status: "People can see hard work," he says. "It can make up for a lack of other things."

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