ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — For all the Democrats' strength and swagger in New York, the party could lose as many as eight U.S. House seats in the Empire State alone in November.
The top of the Democratic ticket is formidable. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo enjoys a hefty, double-digit lead in polling for the governor's race and Sen. Charles Schumer is cruising to a third term against token opposition. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, an appointed replacement for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, is far head in the polls after initially being tagged as vulnerable.
All three are expected to easily capture the party nomination in Tuesday's primary, and stand as prohibitive favorites in a state where registered Democratic voters outnumber Republican 2-to-1. Complicating the GOP prospects, Republicans don't have a single A-list name running statewide this year.
But recession-weary voters are unlikely to be as kind to some of the lower-profile New York Democrats who now control 26 of the state's 29 seats in the U.S. House.
Democrats captured seven of their eight at-risk House seats in the 2006 and 2008 elections, when they made gains in suburban and upstate districts that had long been dominated by Republicans. They won two of the seats in special elections where turnout and organization were critical. Party strategists fear those two elements will be lacking this year.
They've already pretty much written off their chances of holding a seat in the Republican-leaning Rochester area left vacant when Rep. Eric Massa resigned in March amid an investigation into whether he sexually harassed male staffers.
Just to the east, second-term Rep. Michael Arcuri is facing a steep rematch challenge from GOP businessman Richard Hanna, who nearly defeated him in 2008 when the wind was at Democrats' backs.
Rep. Tim Bishop could be in trouble in a conservative swath of Long Island, although he may benefit from GOP rifts. Rep. Bill Owens profited from such divisions last year, winning a special election and becoming the first Democrat in nearly a century to represent New York's northernmost district. He also is regarded as vulnerable.
Reps. John Hall and Scott Murphy, who both represent swing districts, are also in danger in a poor political environment for Democrats.
If a GOP tsunami emerges, still more House Democrats, including Rep. Dan Maffei and first-term Rep. Michael McMahon, could also find themselves swept out of power.
"There's a groundswell out there that I don't think is being properly appreciated. And I think it's happening in New York, just like everywhere else," said former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. "There's no doubt you start with a great Democratic margin here in New York. But in certain elections, you can overcome that."
Giuliani noted surprise Republican wins over Democratic county executives in the New York City suburbs last November.
Democratic enrollment advantages were not enough to hold off Republican challenges in the past year by Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts or Gov. Chris Christie in New Jersey. But New York Democrats have a ticket headed by Cuomo, son of liberal hero and former Gov. Mario Cuomo and arguably the most popular politician in the state.
Cuomo's presence on the ballot could help Gillibrand. The former rural upstate congresswoman had a sometimes bumpy transition to big-state senator after her appointment by a weak Gov. David Paterson. Analysts at one time had given Republicans a decent chance of snatching the Senate seat. But with help from the White House and Schumer, Gillibrand has unified Democrats behind her.
In the race for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, Rick Lazio, a former congressman beaten in his 2000 Senate race against Clinton, finds himself in a fight against millionaire Buffalo developer Carl Paladino, a tea party-style populist whose campaign signs read "I'm mad as Hell, too, Carl!"
Republicans were unable to lure a big-name challenger for either Gillibrand or Schumer. Giuliani declined to run, as did former Gov. George Pataki and Rep. Peter King — three New York Republicans with national name recognition from the Sunday morning network news shows. Pataki was the last Republican to hold statewide office, in 2006. Polls show that the five GOP candidates in the two Senate primaries are little known.
"The Republican Party has been riven by leadership issues, so they don't always put forward their strongest candidates or they engage in primaries that dilute whatever strength they have," said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of Hofstra University's National Center for Suburban Studies.
"A lot of potential quality candidates say, 'Why bother?'"
The relative anonymity of the statewide candidates makes it harder to raise money, which in turn makes it harder to stage a competitive race. One example: Gary Berntsen, who is running for the Schumer seat, reported just under $61,000 in campaign cash on hand last month; Schumer had $23.2 million.
Associated Press Writer Ben Dobbin in Rochester contributed to this report.
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