Races to Watch: A GOP Seat at Risk in Upstate New York

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Chris Lee, left, and Alice Kryzan, right, are running for New York's 26th District Congressional seat.

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The key to winning the general election, as that jockeying indicates, will be unaffiliated voters and third-party voting lines on the ballot; the latest reliable poll, sponsored by a local television station and released Sept. 26, put Lee ahead of Kryzan 48-37, with 8% saying they would vote for other candidates and 7% undecided. The district has traditionally leaned Republican, with about 180,000 registered Republicans compared to about 140,000 Democrats, but it also includes more than 90,000 independents, along with nearly 30,000 registered third-party voters. In the 2006 election, incumbent Reynolds won with just 52% of the vote — and 14% of his votes came from the Conservative party line. His challenger got 16% of his votes from the Working Families Party and Independence lines. This year, Republican Lee has the Independence line, which should be a significant boost to his chances.

As the opposite party of the incumbent, Kryzan — like Barack Obama — seems poised to benefit politically from the current turmoil on Wall Street. With the help of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, she has been blasting Lee for refusing to state whether he would have voted for Congress' $700 billion bailout bill. (Kryzan says she would have voted yes; Lee says the bill was "necessary," but an "embarrassment" because it was loaded with so many pork barrel projects.) Upstate New York and the rest of the Rust Belt has been hit particularly hard by the economic downturn, with the region still reeling from the loss of manufacturing jobs over the past several decades. It is fertile ground for anti-corporate sentiment, and Kryzan is tapping it to attack Lee, who is running on his business background; he worked for his family's business, an engineering and technology firm from which he made millions when it was sold to an international conglomerate in 2007. Kryzan says her work as an environmental lawyer means she's poised to help create green-collar jobs in Western New York; she has painted Lee as an irresponsible deregulator, making the tone of the race feel very much like the presidential contest between John McCain and Barack Obama.

Lee has tried to turn the tables on Kryzan, painting her as a liberal candidate who would raise taxes. And she is not immune to anti-corporate attacks. Some of the harshest criticism Kryzan faced in the primary season was for working as a lawyer for the chemical company responsible for the Love Canal disaster of the late 1970s and early 1980s in Niagara Falls. The candidates are set to debate a few times before Election Day, and the negativity will surely be on display. Kryzan is used to the harsh tone from the primary season, but this time she faces a well-financed opponent gunning squarely for her, and she may have a harder time staying above the fray.

(See a gallery of campaign gaffes here.)

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