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NY congressional races key to fate of U.S. House

Tim Bishop speaks at an event opening of

Tim Bishop speaks at an event opening of a Smithtown campaign office in Smithtown. (Aug. 26, 2012) Credit: Newsday/Ed Betz

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- New York isn't a battleground state in the presidential election, but it will be for control of Congress.

At least eight congressional seats are in play in New York, and key representatives said whatever happens in the Empire State will determine the fate of the House of Representatives. It's one of the hottest topics for delegates this week at the Democratic National Convention here.

"The key for control of the House lies in three or four states, and New York is one of the most prominent," said Rep. Eliot Engel (D-Bronx), whose recently redrawn district lies mostly in Westchester County. "If we don't do well in New York, then we can't take the House back."

Polls show President Barack Obama with a lead of more than 20 points over Republican Mitt Romney in New York. Neither campaign is expected to spend much money or time here. But the parties will spend on the House races.

Four Democratic incumbents are considered vulnerable: Reps. Tim Bishop of Southampton, Bill Owens of Plattsburgh, Louise Slaughter of Rochester and Kathy Hochul of Amherst. All of them skipped the convention to stay home and campaign.

The four vulnerable Republicans are: Michael Grimm of Staten Island, Nan Hayworth of Bedford, Ann Marie Buerkle of Syracuse and Chris Gibson of Kinderhook.

The heightened competition will trigger a "very active" congressional campaign across the state, said Rep. Paul Tonko (D-Amsterdam).

Rep. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills), who leads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has the task of targeting the Democratic seats around the nation that his party needs to defend and the seats that they can wrest from Republicans. The DCCC directs the flow of campaign funds and helps manage mail, phone banks and digital voter recruitment efforts.

Israel said that 66 congressional districts around the nation that voted for either Obama in 2008 or Democrat John Kerry in the 2004 presidential elections supported a Republican candidate in 2010, when the GOP took the House. He believes at least 25 will flip back to a Democrat this fall.

"Since 2010, there's a deep sense of buyer's remorse," Israel said, about what he called a far-right, "tea party" agenda.

That makes him one of the most in-demand congressmen in Charlotte this week.

He said he "loves it," despite the five-hour sleeping schedule he's implemented for the campaign.

His position landed him a speaking role in the nonprime-time portion of Wednesday's convention program. He used his time slot to paint congressional elections as a choice between "a Democratic majority that will bet on America's middle class" or a Republican Congress that "fought for tax breaks for big corporations sending jobs overseas."

"They've had two years to put the middle class first," Israel told conventioneers. "Time's up."

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