WASHINGTON — Let the attacks begin.
With Rep. John M. McHugh still representing the north country in Congress, the battle to eventually fill his seat is taking a nastier turn, with Republicans targeting the Democrats' potential heavyweight candidate — as well as one of their own potential nominees who may not satisfy the party's conservative wing.
The National Republican Congressional Committee launched its first automated phone calls Tuesday afternoon throughout the 23rd Congressional District and said it will place its first television ad Thursday in Watertown, Syracuse and Plattsburgh, all criticizing state Sen. Darrel J. Aubertine, D-Cape Vincent, for budget-related votes in Albany, in case he becomes the Democrats' choice to run for Congress.
And conservative Republican critics of state Assemblywoman Dierdre K. Scozzafava, R-Gouverneur, sought to publicize tens of thousands of dollars in overdue taxes on businesses tied to her brother, Thomas W. Scozzafava. Ms. Scozzafava said the spreading of that information is consistent with tactics used by consultants hired by another Republican in the running, Matthew A. Doheny.
Ms. Scozzafava said she had "been warned to anticipate" such efforts by opponents in her own party.
Neither party has officially picked a candidate to run for Mr. McHugh's seat, which he will vacate if confirmed as secretary of the Army, perhaps in early August or September. The Republicans have said the 11 county chairpersons will do so tonight. Democrats have given potential candidates until Thursday to make their intentions known; Mr. Aubertine said in a telephone interview Tuesday that he was "still up in the air" about running.
Gov. David A. Paterson has said he will set a date for the special election after Mr. McHugh is confirmed.
The criticism of Ms. Scozzafava appeared Friday on a Capitol Hill conservative blog, RedState.com, which included a link to three filings by the state Department of Taxation and Finance and the federal Internal Revenue Service.
Those documents do not mention Ms. Scozzafava but were filed against businesses connected to her through her brother, including the Sackets Harbor Brewing Company, Alteri Bakery Inc. and Goodfellos, a restaurant in Sackets Harbor.
Mr. Scozzafava is president and chief executive officer of Seaway Valley Capital, which owns those companies as well as the financially troubled Hacketts department stores. Ms. Scozzafava was the chief operating officer of the company when it founded in 2002 as Seaway Capital Partners, a title she touts on her biography on her Assembly Web site.
She said Tuesday that she was corporate secretary for WiseBuys, the retail chain owned by Seaway Valley, at one time. Its stores were later converted to Hacketts.
Together, the liens amount to almost $200,000.
Ms. Scozzafava attributed the criticism of her to opponents' use of opposition research, a routine practice in political campaigns she decided not to use in the lead-up to county GOP committees' selection of a candidate. It could backfire, she said, as north country voters have had their fill of heavy-handed campaigns and political consultants lately.
"After the last couple of races, they're not crazy about attacks from people who are not from here," Ms. Scozzafava said.
She said she found the timing of the blog posting striking and probably not coincidental, given the looming deadline for GOP officials to pick among her, Mr. Doheny and others.
Mr. Doheny did not return a phone call for comment Tuesday. One of his hired consultants, J. Brendan Quinn of Albany, said he was unfamiliar with the Web site that posted the information and that his only work so far has been to advise Mr. Doheny on securing the nomination and preparing for a general election.
On the Democratic side, Mr. Aubertine may not have declared, but Republicans are spending money against him anyhow. In what a spokesman called a "significant buy," the National Republican Congressional Committee started automated phone calls Tuesday throughout the 23rd Congressional District attacking Mr. Aubertine for casting the deciding vote for a "dangerous and painful budget" that effectively raised taxes.
In addition, NRCC-sponsored mailings should arrive Thursday and Friday in Northern New York mailboxes, said the committee's spokesman, Paul Lindsay. The mailing calls Mr. Aubertine a "tax and spend liberal" and attempts to tie him ideologically to House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.