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As Eric T. Schneiderman’s political career went up in smoke this week, Rep. Kathleen Rice became fired up about pursuing the Democratic nomination for state attorney general — a spot she came close to winning in 2010.
In that wide-open primary to succeed Andrew M. Cuomo, who was running for governor, Schneiderman beat Rice by just 2.5 percent of the vote in a field of five. She almost certainly would have won except for the candidacy of Sean Coffey, a former federal prosecutor who attracted white Catholic votes, especially upstate.
In 2014, Rice, then the Nassau County district attorney, ran for Congress, and until Monday, she planned to seek a third term in the House. It’s not a gig she especially likes, but one she would keep unless she could be state attorney general.
So, can Rice keep both options open? Can she even give up her congressional seat at this point? As Rice and her opponents besiege election law specialists for clear answers, the answer right now seems to be no — both from practical and political perspectives. Here’s why.
Rice has the Democratic nomination for the 4th Congressional District. Last month was the deadline to get on the ballot for the June federal primary, and no one challenged her.
State law prohibits a candidate from being nominated for two offices. So let’s assume that at the Democrats’ state convention in Uniondale later this month Rice gets 25 percent of the weighted vote of committee members to win a spot on the ballot. She would then have to ask the state Board of Elections to rule that being a candidate in the AG primary is sufficient grounds for her to decline her nomination for Congress. That’s not a slam dunk at the Board of Elections if Republicans get picky. And AG opponents who want her off the state ballot also might undertake a legal challenge.
If Rice doesn’t get a nod from state Democrats, but petitions her way onto the ballot for the state primary on Sept. 13 and wins, she has a better legal case with the Board of Elections to get off the general election ballot. She officially has the nomination, but now timing becomes a problem. It takes at least a week for state election results to be certified, even if there isn’t a recount. That means that the earliest she can formally file to decline the federal nomination with the Board of Elections is Sept. 20. Even if that timing works out, Nassau County Democrats would have only one day to choose a replacement congressional candidate because by midnight Sept. 22, federal military ballots have to be in the mail.
But the legal hoops might be the least of it. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is telling state Democrats this is a big headache, possibly putting a safe seat in play because the newly nominated Democratic candidate for Congress would only have seven weeks to campaign and raise money. If Rice loses the state primary in September, she would still be on the federal ballot. But she could have lost a lot of ground.
Not only would fellow Democrats criticize her in a primary, but her Republican opponent in the congressional race would attack her as not really wanting the job in Washington.
Can Rice thread this needle? Yes, but not without great peril.