Sweeney: if Democrats are "going to spend their time in my district, they're wasting their time"
Of course, Sweeney is the furthest thing from an independent, voting 92% of the time with disgraced Tom DeLay. Sweeney is a tool of the radical fringe of the GOP and the big lobbyists, like pharmaceuticals & energy.
Democrats focus House hopes in NortheastPosted 4/23/2006 8:38 PM ET
By Andrea Stone, USA TODAY
The district U.S. Rep. John Sweeney represents, sprawling from the Adirondack Mountains to the New York City suburbs, has always been Republican territory. Voters there twice chose George W. Bush for president but never backed Franklin Roosevelt, a local Hyde Park boy.
For Democratic challenger Kirsten Gillibrand, however, the Upstate New York district is a land of opportunity and a key to her party's strategy for gaining control of the House of Representatives.
"There's a shift happening right now in the district and the region," says Gillibrand, 39, a lawyer and a former Clinton administration housing official. "People want new leaders who are accountable."
Gillibrand is among more than a dozen Democratic candidates in New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania who hope to turn the region's pockets of red — House districts held by Republicans — to blue. The region, where John Kerry beat Bush handily in 2004, is fertile ground for Democrats to pick up many of the 15 seats they need to regain House control.
"If there is a (Democratic) wave this year and it's going to hit anywhere, it's the Northeast," says Amy Walter, analyst at the non-partisan Cook Political Report. "That is where Bush's weakness is felt."
The regional focus mirrors the approach used by Republicans in 1994 when they capitalized on dissatisfaction with President Clinton's failed health care plan to target Democrats in the South, an area already tilting their way. Republicans picked up 52 House seats, with their biggest gains in the South, and ended 40 years of Democratic rule.
Now Democrats hope to do the reverse in the Northeast. Dartmouth University political scientist Linda Fowler says the "most ominous" signs for Republicans there are the disenchantment of independent voters and fiscal conservatives who are fed up with deficit spending by Congress. The GOP must also contend with the historical tendency of the party that controls the White House to lose congressional seats in the middle of a second presidential term.
Sarah Chamberlain Resnick, executive director of the moderate Republican Main Street Partnership, which includes several Northeastern lawmakers, says the GOP faces several challenges: "The president's numbers, the war in Iraq, the famous six-year itch. There's a lot of things that are around this."
Ed Patru of the House GOP campaign committee acknowledges "the atmospherics are not great" but says Democrats underestimate incumbents. "We're so optimistic, despite the national mood, because we understand that races are fundamentally about local issues."
Though Democrats are targeting seven Republican-held seats in New York, Hamilton College political scientist Philip Klinkner says most of the incumbents will be tough to beat. Democrats may have a reasonable shot to win the seat of retiring Rep. Sherwood Boehlert and to oust Sweeney.
Independent political analyst Stuart Rothenberg says Gillibrand is an underdog but poses "a reasonable possibility for an upset." She had raised $716,000 through March 31, compared with Sweeney's $1.1 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics.
Sweeney, 50, has battled recent medical problems, has been the subject of charges from Gillibrand and others of being too cozy with drug company lobbyists, and has been scrutinized for having paid his wife commissions to do fundraising for him. But Larry Bulman, Democratic chairman of Saratoga County, says Sweeney's "biggest problem is he is so close to President Bush." Pollster John Zogby found that just one in three New Yorkers say Bush is doing a good job.
Sweeney says his health is improving, dismisses ethics charges as unfounded and says polls don't reflect his district, where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 80,000. Though he says the New York GOP is "in disarray" and there are vulnerable House Republicans, he insists he isn't one of them.
He says he's an independent who isn't afraid to take on the Bush administration, such as for funding for post-9/11 rebuilding and Hudson River dredging. He accuses Democrats of overreaching.
"They get a good mark for effort," Sweeney says of the Democrats' Northeast strategy. "But if they're going to spend their time in my district, they're wasting their time."
He deserves to go because upstate New Yorkers are not that kind of people.