King won't challenge Gillibrand for U.S. Senate

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) during a news conference

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. (June 9, 2009) (Credit: AP)

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Rep. Peter King's long-suspected announcement that he won't challenge Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand next year leaves state Republicans without an obvious candidate for an important statewide race, political experts said Monday.

King (R-Seaford) began toying with a U.S. Senate run in January, when it appeared Gov. David A. Paterson would appoint Caroline Kennedy to fill Hillary Rodham Clinton's seat, but backed away when the governor named Gillibrand, a moderate upstate Democrat. In June he said he was "leaning against" a run.

"Once Caroline Kennedy was not picked, I saw this as being more and more remote," King said Monday. "Gillibrand is helped by the fact that people don't know who she is."

King, who said he will seek a 10th term in Congress, and state GOP chairman Joseph Mondello touted former Gov. George Pataki for the post, though the three-term governor has shown no public signs of interest in the race. Mondello cited upstate county executives Chris Collins of Erie County and Joanne M. Mahoney of Onondaga County as possible Senate candidates, though both are relatively unknown outside their counties.

"People are looking for change. I think we've got people who could provide it," he said.

But C.W. Post political scientist Stan Klein, a GOP committeeman, said he doubted the Republicans will make a credible race against Gillibrand.

"They will run somebody," he said. "The question is, who will they drag out of a closet?"

Jay Jacobs, who will become the state Democratic chairman at the end of the month, said King's decision to avoid a race is indicative of the weakness of state Republicans.

"The Republican Party is overwhelmingly the minority party in New York and it is currently in a state of disarray without a strong central organization or unifying force," Jacobs said.

Gillibrand spokesman Matt Canter declined to comment.

Suffolk Legis. Jon Cooper (D-Lloyd Harbor), who is considering a primary challenge to Gillibrand, said King's departure leaves the GOP without a credible candidate in next year's general election. The other announced candidate is Democrat Jonathan Tasini.

"It means whoever is the Democratic nominee is going to win the general election," Cooper said.

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