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Party switch for Scozzafava could prove difficult

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CANTON - Switching teams is hard enough, but playing for a new one while retaining allegiance to the old is an even more difficult proposition.

Dierdre K. Scozzafava, the registered Republican who some say may run on the Democratic line for the 21st Congressional District seat, told the Times on Thursday that she would not comment on a potential campaign despite receiving tacit endorsement from her one-time opponent Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh.

“I think she’d be an excellent candidate,” Mr. Owens said during an interview in Potsdam.

Mr. Owens announced in mid-January that he would not run for re-election.

From 1999 to 2010, Ms. Scozzafava represented state Assembly District 122, which includes most of St. Lawrence and Lewis counties and some of Oswego County. She was the GOP nominee for the 21st District seat in a 2009 special election, but ended her campaign to support Mr. Owens.

If Ms. Scozzafava does decide to run on the Democratic line while remaining a registered Republican, she would have to secure the permission of the Democratic Party in the district.

A 1947 law, often referred to as the “Wilson-Pakula” law, is a requirement under state election law that a candidate running under the banner of the opposite party must first receive its permission.

The law, named for Malcolm Wilson, a Republican Assemblyman from Westchester County, and Irwin Pakula, a Republican state senator from Queens, was created to protect the integrity of the two main political parties and stop marauding politicians from sabotaging a given party’s primary.

Granting that permission could be a difficult decision, according to Grant Reeher, director of the Alan K. Campbell Public Affairs Institute at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School.

Democrats may not want to allow Ms. Scozzafava to run on their line because it would set a dangerous precedent that could further weaken a party that is already outnumbered in the district, Mr. Reeher said.

It may also undermine the party’s message, Mr. Reeher said.

“Parties should stand for something,” the thinking goes, according to Mr. Reeher, and allowing someone from the other major party to run on the opposite line could dilute that position.

At the same time, however, Ms. Scozzafava’s candidacy could be a coup for Democrats in an environment where each party is attempting to show it is more moderate.

It would bolster the Democrats’ claim that they are “the party of reasonable approaches,” Mr. Reeher said.

That is assuming, of course, that should Ms. Scozzafava be sent to Washington, she would caucus with the Democrats, according to Mr. Reeher.

“If she goes there and her first meeting is with John Boehner,” the Republican speaker of the House, “that would not work,” Mr. Reeher said.

Marc Brumer, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, declined to comment on the specifics of what a Republican running on the Democratic line would mean, saying only that the DCCC is ready to work with whichever candidate north country Democrats choose.

The players in the Republican race are, to a certain extent, already known — Elise M. Stefanik, Willsboro; Joseph M. Gilbert, DeKalb Junction; Michael F. Ring, Adams Center; and James K. Waller, Lake Pleasant, are the declared candidates; two-time Owens opponent Matthew A. Doheny is a rumored contender. But large questions remain about who will enter the fray on the Democratic side.

Democrat Darrel J. Aubertine, the former state senator, said Friday he has not yet made a decision about whether to enter the race.

And there has been no word yet from M. Scott Murphy, D-Glens Falls, the venture capitalist and former congressman from Glens Falls.

Ms. Scozzafava’s name was left out of a poll apparently being conducted in the district by the Republican National Congressional Committee.

Jefferson County Republican Committee member John D. Peck, also a county legislator from Great Bend, said he received an automated phone call sponsored by the RNCC asking him about his impressions of Mr. Aubertine and Mr. Murphy as well as Republican candidate Ms. Stefanik and potential Republican candidate Mr. Doheny.

Mr. Brumer declined to comment on any poll that the DCCC might be taking in the area.

Letters of intent and resumes from interested Democratic candidates are due to the party’s chairpersons by Feb. 4.

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