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New York gets more competitive under new congressional map

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New York will again be one of the most competitive states in the country when it comes to congressional races.

Under a map approved by a three-judge panel Monday, upwards of a dozen of the state’s 27 House seats will be ripe for competition in 2012, including some previously safe seats.

Rep. Kathy Hochul (D) won a special election in New York’s 26th congressional district last May. Hochul’s district, already conservative, becomes even tougher for Democrats under the new map. (AP Photo/Harry Scull Jr/The Buffalo News)

New York’s congressional delegation has shifted between parties as much as nearly any other state over the last decade — including in some very significant special elections — but 2012 could up the ante even more.

The map shows many of the upstate seats that have swung between parties in recent years remain competitive. In addition, Long Island seats held by Reps. Steve Israel (D), Pete King (R) and Carolyn McCarthy (D) become more competitive, and Republicans even have an outside shot at beating Rep. Louise Slaughter (D) in her previously safe Buffalo area district, which became significantly more conservative.

First, though, the good news for Democrats:

* As the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee pointed out in a release Monday, just two of the state’s 27 newly drawn districts went more than 50 percent for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the 2008 presidential race. And the ones that did clear that threshold didn’t do so by much. In other words, Democrats should theoretically be able to compete basically everywhere. This was certainly the case last decade; in fact, at one point, Democrats held all but two of the state’s 29 congressional seats. (The state lost two seats in reapportionment this year.)

* King’s seat could be ripe for the taking, though that’s more likely if and when the popular incumbent retires. His district moves from one that gave McCain 52 percent to one that gave the Arizona senator around 48 percent.

* Upstate districts held by freshman Reps. Chris Gibson (R), Nan Hayworth (R), Ann Marie Buerkle (R) and Tom Reed (R) all got tougher for the GOP to hold. These seats were all held by Democrats last Congress, and could flip back, provided Democrats land the right candidates. Buerkle and Gibson will be top Democratic targets in districts that went 42 percent and 45 percent for McCain, respectively. Hayworth and Reed will be a little tougher to take down in districts that went 47 percent and 49 percent for McCain.

Buerkle faces a rematch with former congressman Dan Maffei (D). A consolation prize for Hayworth is that Cortlandt Councilman Rich Becker (D) was drawn out of her district, though he is still going to challenge her.

And now, the good news for Republicans:

* Freshman Rep. Kathy Hochul (D), who pulled a surprising upset in a western New York special election last year, sees her district become the most conservative in the state. It would have gone 54 percent for McCain, making it one of the toughest districts in the country for Democrats to defend.

* Israel, McCarthy and Slaughter will all be tough to take down, but they are at least within the realm of possibility. McCarthy and Israel, the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, now represent districts that would have gone 44 percent and 46 percent for McCain, respectively. Slaughter’s district is still Democratic-leaning, going about 60 percent for President Obama, but the GOP just landed a top-flight recruit against her in Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks.

* Rep. Richard Hanna (R), unlike his upstate GOP colleagues, gets a little bit of help, moving from a 48 percent McCain district to 49 percent.

Among the rest of the vulnerable incumbents, Reps. Bill Owens (D) and Tim Bishop (D) both came out about even. Both men face rematches of their 2010 races, which were both won by less than 2,000 votes.

New York is the last big state to finalize its congressional map, though legal challenges could still force further changes to some established maps (Florida’s, in particular).

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