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GOP Congressional election strategy may need re-evaluation in wake of Owens’s announcement


As the Democrats work to find a suitable replacement for Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, speculation is rampant about what the Republican Party will do in the wake of Mr. Owens’s announcement that he will not seek re-election.

Before Mr. Owens’s announcement, three Republicans had emerged. Elise M. Stefanik, Willsboro, Joseph M. Gilbert, DeKalb Junction, and Michael F. Ring, Adams Center, have announced their candidacies. Of the three, Ms. Stefanik has the most advanced campaign, with an active committee in place and about $160,000 already raised for the campaign.

Raymond A. Scollin, the Franklin County GOP chairman, said the speculation about additional candidates running in the race is simply fodder for “partisans” and “media provocateurs.”

“It isn’t really going on right now,” he said. “Republicans in New York 21 are just calm right now. The madness that people are portraying just isn’t going on.”

Ms. Stefanik has already met with the Franklin County leadership, but Mr. Scollin declined to disclose his endorsement.

According to him, the Republican Committee chairmen and women from across the district will meet in February to discuss the results of their endorsement meetings. At that time, the district’s Republican leadership will announce what candidate it is endorsing.

Mr. Owens’s decision to step down at the end of his term has not changed that process, Mr. Scollin said.

But Donald G.M. Coon III, the Jefferson County GOP chairman, said some adjustment may be needed in the wake of recent events.

“We should slow the process down a bit.” Mr. Coon said. “The fact remains that Owens’s retirement requires a little more study and thought on the process. ... We’ll come to an amicable consensus, I’m sure.”

In the meantime, Ms. Stefanik is forging ahead with her plans to meet with the district’s Republican committee heads.

She has picked up an endorsement from Republicans in Saratoga County and from the acting Conservative chairman in Essex County. On Thursday, she met with GOP committee members in Washington County — her eighth meeting so far. She has four of the 12 county committees left and the process will culminate with the Jefferson County meeting Jan. 30 in Watertown.

Ms. Stefanik said she has been encouraged by the responses of the county committees with which she has met, though Saratoga and Essex counties remain the only ones that have publicly endorsed her on any line.

Thursday, in what was a significant gain, former Conservative Party congressional candidate Douglas L. Hoffman endorsed her. That move could remove a large hurdle for her candidacy by answering the question of whether the moderate and conservative wings of the party will once again be split. It could also signal a race in which no third-party candidate will affect the outcome.

Ms. Stefanik is not deterred by the speculation that more Republican candidates will enter the race now that the seat is open. She remains optimistic about her chances of winning the nomination and the election.

“I plan on being the strongest candidate throughout the rest of the year,” she said.

Republicans still may be nervous that a third candidate will split the vote, as happened during the 2009 special election that brought Mr. Owens to office and the 2010 midterm election that kept him there.

The names of Mr. Owens’s two-time opponent Matthew A. Doheny and Warren County District Attorney Kathleen B. “Kate” Hogan have been floated as potential Republican candidates who may enter the race.

Mr. Doheny declined to comment on the speculation Thursday.

Ms. Hogan said earlier that she would give a congressional run “serious consideration,” but told the Glens Falls Post-Star on Friday that she had decided not to enter the race.

According to Mark Schmitt, senior fellow at the New American Foundation, the Republican Party has become more adept at controlling the competing factions within its base now that the Tea Party movement is a few years old.

“If they want a single nominee, they can get it,” Mr. Schmitt said.

At the same time, the difficulty of maintaining a balance between appealing to moderate and more conservative Republicans has decreased as the Tea Party movement has waned from its height in 2009, provided that a grueling primary race does not force a candidate to take a more extreme position that will become detrimental in a general election, according to Mr. Schmitt.

Therefore, an additional candidate entering the race may not necessarily be something to be overly concerned about; the candidate to worry about is the one who could win a primary but not a general election, Mr. Schmitt said.

Unable to control for who else may enter the race, Ms. Stefanik said she was focusing on securing the Republican, Conservative and Independent lines to unite her supporters.

“Latecomers have the potential to divide the party, and that’s why I’m working so hard,” Ms. Stefanik said.

As yet unknown is how the Democratic Party will respond to the situation.

Rumors continue to circulate that Diedre K. Scozzafava, Mr. Owens’s 2009 Republican opponent, may switch parties and run for the seat as a Democrat.

The name of venture capitalist and former congressman. M. Scott Murphy, D-Glens Falls, also has been thrown into the mix.

Mr. Scott won a special election in 2009 to fill a vacancy in New York’s 20th Congressional District when then-Rep. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., was appointed to the Senate. He subsequently lost the seat to retired Army colonel Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, in a 2010 election. Mr. Murphy conceded on election night when he was behind Mr. Gibson by 12 percentage points.

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