Nan Hayworth gearing up to run against Sean Maloney in 2014

Congresswoman Nan Hayworth speaks durings a news conference Congresswoman Nan Hayworth speaks durings a news conference about rebuilding the Forge Hill Road bridge in New Windsor. (Aug. 30, 2012) Photo Credit: Rory Glaeseman

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Former Republican congresswoman Nan Hayworth is plotting her comeback.

Hayworth, who lost a re-election bid in November to Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney, has formed a new campaign committee, started raising money and is actively building a base for a rematch with Maloney in the 18th Congressional District.

"People have been encouraging me to make another run," Hayworth told Newsday Westchester. "The outcome of the election didn't change my devotion to the Hudson Valley. This has been my home for nearly three decades and I enjoyed serving it in Congress."

Political observers have speculated that Hayworth's defeat last time out -- she lost 52 percent to 48 percent -- was in part due to a big turnout by Democrats in urban areas such as Newburgh and Middletown, where Democratic regulars were energized by the re-election campaign of President Barack Obama. The pros say Hayworth, 53, would likely fare better in the 2014 midterm elections, recapturing some of the strength she showed when elected to her first term in 2010.

"Historically, in midterm elections, the electorate is older, whiter and wealthier, and that tends to bode well for Republican candidates," said Christopher Malone, a professor and chairman of the political science department at Pace University in Manhattan. "There's no reason that Nan Hayworth shouldn't be considering another run for that seat."

Tony Sayegh, a GOP consultant, said he thinks Hayworth would be an "extremely formidable" candidate if she runs again for the 18th, which arches through northern Westchester and into Putnam County, crossing the Hudson to encompass much of Orange County and part of Rockland.

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"She earned a terrific reputation as a real pragmatic problem solver in Congress and her politics align with the balanced electorate in the district much more than her opponent, who is far more ideological," he said. "She has maintained a strong and positive presence in the community since the election, which will help her if she runs."

As a freshman Democrat in a district that leans slightly Republican, Maloney, 46, is considered vulnerable. A former aide to President Bill Clinton, he was virtually unknown in the Hudson Valley when he declared for the 18th Congressional District seat. Since he took office in January, he has been the target of negative TV and Internet ads criticizing his attitudes toward the federal budget.

Maloney's staff say he is focused on issues that affect the district, advocating increased benefits for farmers and for veterans affected by federal budget cuts, while also pushing for generous federal funding for a new Tappan Zee bridge.

The election, they note, is more than a year away.

"Our focus is solely on the constituents," Maloney spokeswoman Stephanie Formas said.

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MALONEY AN OPENLY GAY POLITICIAN

A lawyer, Maloney makes his home in Cold Spring. He is the first openly gay politician to represent the state in Congress. He and his domestic partner of some 20 years, Randy Florke, have three children. His outspoken defense of same-sex marriage in the first few months of his term coincided with a national debate on the issue and had the effect of raising his profile across the country, observers have said.

He has proved adept at fundraising, rallying support with regular emails that warn supporters he is under constant attack from Tea Party and Republican-backed political action committees. In the first quarter of this year, Maloney banked $516,763 in campaign contributions -- a haul that made him the fourth-best fundraiser in the House's freshman class, for the period, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

But the bottom line numbers on Maloney's fundraising efforts may conceal a weakness. Of the total amount raised, less than $90,000 came from contributors within Maloney's district. Some $109,000 came from Democratic super PACs or political action committees representing labor unions or corporate and business interests.

Hayworth and her supporters have been critical of Maloney's Hudson Valley credentials since he first announced a challenge to her, accusing the former Manhattan resident of "shopping" for a congressional seat and blasting him as a "carpetbagger" in TV ads.

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REBUILDING CAMPAIGN FUNDS, SUPPORT

Hayworth, too, is raising money aggressively.

According to her April 15 Federal Election Commission filing, she drummed up more than $65,000 in the the first three months of 2013, mostly from out-of-state Republican super-PACS focused on supporting strong Republican candidates. Rob DiFrancesco, a Hayworth spokesman, said she has been contacted by "hundreds" of supporters and community leaders in the region urging her to run against Maloney.

"Her relationship with her neighbors in the Hudson Valley is a good one," DeFrancesco said, "and she looks forward to continuing the conversation on how best to create new jobs, improve our quality of life and reduce the debt burden being passed on to our children and grandchildren."

Hayworth is an ophthalmologist who lives in Bedford. She and her husband, Dr. Scott Hayworth -- one of the more successful and better known physicians in Westchester County -- have two sons. She was swept to power in 2010 on a wave of Tea Party-driven anti-incumbent sentiment, a wave strong enough to give the GOP control of the House. While in office, she was a vocal critic of President Barack Obama's policies, particularly his health care law and his approach to the budget.

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In campaigning against her, Maloney characterized Hayworth as a right-wing extremist and a member of the Tea Party. She describes herself as a moderate on social issues. One of her sons is gay and she has been an advocate for gay and lesbian rights in Washington, backing a bill that would have granted same-sex marriage partners the same federal tax exemptions that heterosexual couples receive.

Hayworth says she has remained active in the congressional district since her defeat.

"I'm volunteering in the community and spending time with my family," she said. "Elected or not, I keep going."

Her Facebook page features recent photographs of her posing with veterans groups and attending ribbon-cuttings for new businesses in Goshen and other towns in Orange and Putnam counties, as if she were still representing the region. Supporters are posting comments that urge her to run again.

"I bet it annoys Maloney that you're still such a high profile presence in our district, even more so than him really," read a comment posted by Sean Sullivan, a supporter, on the Facebook page. "But do you know what would annoy him more? Beating him in 2014. Run, Nan, run!"

Hayworth said she is "heartened" by such sentiments. She wouldn't criticize Maloney's actions in Congress since he took office, but said supporters have told her they miss her representation on key issues such as the national debt and taxes. On fiscal issues, Hayworth has been a staunch conservative.

"I see the problems we have to tackle in our community every day," she said. "There was a certain productive direction we were headed in when I was serving in Congress and many people have told me they want to see me return to office."

WILL HAYWORTH GET LOCAL BACKING?

While national Republican groups appear to be grooming Hayworth for a rematch against Maloney, local party leaders do not seem convinced that she is the best candidate to help them retake the congressional seat.

Bill DeProspo, longtime chairman of the Orange County Republican Executive Committee, said he personally likes Hayworth, and feels she was a good representative for the region in Congress, but called her re-election campaign last year "dismal."

"She was unable to connect with the voters in a meaningful way," he said. "Frankly, she ran a terrible race."

He said if local party officials were to back her for another bid, "a lot of things would have to change.

"Just about everything would have to change with how her staff deal with the local Republican Party," DeProspo said.

During the 2012 campaign, Hayworth's staff ignored offers of resources and assistance from local party officials, who felt that her campaign was being mismanaged and that her message wasn't resonating with voters, DeProspo said.

Others have been discussed as potential challengers to Maloney, but no strong rival to Hayworth has yet emerged. Speculation had been building that state Sen. Greg Ball, a Patterson Republican, was considering a run for the seat; but the two-term lawmaker, known for his conservative views, recently sent out an email dispelling those "rumors."

Putnam County District Attorney Adam Levy had been mentioned as well, but that talk died down after Levy's former live-in trainer, illegal immigrant Alexandru Hossu, was arrested on charges of raping a minor. Levy, a Republican, is the son of TV's Judith "Judge Judy" Sheindlin.

Regardless of who ends up challenging Maloney, political observers predict the race will garner national attention. Both parties see the district as a swing district. Hayworth's two-term predecessor, John Hall, was a Democrat, while Hall's predecessor, Sue Kelly, was a Republican.

"It's very unlikely that the Democrats are going to take back the House, but they certainly don't want to lose ground," Pace University's Malone said. "Similarly, Republicans will be looking to pick up other seats in 2014, to consolidate their majority."

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