Thursday, March 5, 2009

New York 2010: Senate

There's an old saying in Washington that every senator who looks in the mirror sees a potential president. If so, further south on Capitol Hill, there must be quite a few House members who see a potential senator. (Some congressmen, such as Mo Udall and Dick Gephardt, thought they saw a president, but it turned out to be an optical illusion.)

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, recently made the move from House to Senate. Now, some of her former colleagues in that state's House delegation (and other Empire State politicians) want to make Gillibrand's shift a temporary one.

Here is The New York Times' latest report on the campaign for the special election next year that will ratify, or not, Gillibrand's appointment to replace Hillary Clinton.

The list of challengers includes the holder of a municipal office that is unique to New York City, that of borough president. Two New York mayors (Robert Wagner, Jr., and David Dinkins) had been Manhattan presidents but, generally, the office has been a political dead end. The incumbent Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has emerged as a possible Senate candidate.

Two phenomena are at play here, that are typical of Senate politics within a state.

The first is the tension between urban and rural factions, especially in a state such as New York, which is dominated by one metropolitan area. The gun-totin' Gillibrand is a tough sell in Manhattan. But by the same (subway?) token, the city-slicker Stringer has his work cut out for him upstate.

Governor David Paterson was presumably looking to extend Democratic support into the upstate counties, when he appointed Gillibrand. I assume that that region must have been a key base of support for previous long-serving Republican governors, such as George Pataki, Nelson Rockefeller and Tom Dewey. (I couldn't find data down to that level on the Web; if anyone knows of such a source, please let me know.) Paterson's own run for full a term in 2010 will be much easier, if he can cut into Republican support in those counties.

The second is politicians' fear of missing out on an opportunity, when a Senate seat comes open. New York is not exactly a one-party state, but the Democrats have been dominant recently. Before Gillibrand, or some other Democrat (or Rudy Giuliani?) gets locked into the seat, many New York politicians, both within and outside the House delegation, will want to at least strongly consider a run. Otherwise, they might have a long wait.

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