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Democrats regroup as Republicans finish candidate endorsement meetings

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In New York’s 21st Congressional District, if there’s no contingency plan for replacing a candidate, improvise. And improvise quickly.

The Democratic camp, which appeared to be in disarray in the days following the surprise announcement that William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, would not seek re-election, is organizing itself around a strategy to find the right replacement.

Patience, not panic, will win the day, according to Washington County Democratic Committee Chairwoman Sheila A. Comar.

“Everybody’s anxious about what’s happening,” said Mrs. Comar, who has become the designated spokeswoman for the Democratic Party in the 12 counties that make up the district. “We’re working on a coordinated plan of action. February is going to be a very active time for us.”

Following a meeting Sunday, the party has instituted a policy to screen potential candidates.

Interested individuals are invited to submit a letter of intent and a resume to all 12 county chairpersons for review, Mrs. Comar said.

The committee heads, who speak once a week via teleconference, will discuss their prospects and the party will reach a consensus as to whom it will endorse, Mrs. Comar said.

A similar process in 2009 yielded the Democrats Mr. Owens himself — the first member of their party to be elected to Congress from Northern New York in more than 100 years. Mr. Owens was a registered independent before he was chosen by the 11 Democratic county chairpersons of the former 23rd District to carry the party’s mantle into a special election to replace Republican John M. McHugh, who had been named secretary of the Army.

“I liked Bill,” Mrs. Comar said. “He lives here, he understands the issues, he could talk intelligently on any issue and always justified his decisions.”

Mrs. Comar said that M. Scott Murphy, D-Glens Falls, a former congressman and venture capitalist, is one of the names that have been circulating but that Mr. Murphy had not yet submitted any materials to any of the county committees.

“You don’t speculate if we as the chairs don’t get the information from that person,” she said.

The Adirondack Daily Enterprise reported Friday that national Democrats were suggesting Mr. Murphy as one of the most viable candidates, citing an unnamed source at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Mark Brumer, press secretary for the Northeast Region at the DCCC, declined to comment on Mr. Murphy or any other potential candidate but said, “The DCCC is ready to work with Democrats in the north country to support who they think is the best candidate for the district.”

Mrs. Comar said that while there may have been some initial shock over Mr. Owens’s decision, there is still plenty of time to select a new candidate.

“The day after the announcement, I think everybody panicked,” she said.

A decision is expected in mid-February. Parties may begin circulating candidates’ petitions to be listed on the ballot on March 4.

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