NY13 Blog; Retaking NY-13 from Rep. Vito Fossella

Following the corruption, ineffectiveness and hypocrisy of Rep. Vito Fossella.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

What do the 5 debates mean?

Back in July Stephen Harrison (D) challenged Rep. Vito Fossella to a series of debates. After ignoring his challengers request, Harrison showed up at Fossella's headquarters and held a press conference highlighted the fact that a sitting incumbent was refusing to debate his opponent and allowing the constituents of the thirteenth a chance to differentiate the two candidates. Fossella's campaign was embarrassed into agreeing in theory to debates, but not to anything definitive. Nearly 60 days after Harrison's initial request we find out the two campaigns agreed to a series of four debates. Now just last week we find out they agreed to a fifth debate. So what does this all mean?

via SI Advance;

"It's rare for incumbents to agree to one, let alone five, debates," said Assemblyman John Lavelle (D-North Shore), the borough Democratic Party chairman.

"This only reinforces what my colleagues, the voters and I already know: That Vito Fossella is vulnerable and Steve Harrison is a strong candidate."

I have to agree with Lavelle on this. Back in 2004, which the Staten Island Advance failed to note, Fossella refused to debate his Democratic challenger Frank Barbaro.

Fossella, unable to defend his abysmal record — and refusing to debate Barbaro openly — resorted in the closing days of the campaign to slanderous statements and distortions in an attempt to smear his opponent.

So the fact that he has now agreed to debate, signals a change in his campaign strategy. Fossella, as we have said many times, runs on a strategy of refusing to acknowledge his opponent and sliding through election day with very little presented to the voters of the district other than he is the incumbent. So what has changed?

For one thing, Frank Barbaro showed this can be a competitive seat for Dems, even being drastically outspent by Fossella's usual war chest.

Election Results - Fossela v. Challenger
2000 - 66-34%
2002 - 71-29%
2004 - 59-41%

Second, the anti-incumbent and anti-Republican mentality throughout the country is creating a panic among Republicans. Poll after poll show not only that in generic ballot polling that Americans would vote for Democrats of Republicans this year by about an 11% margin. Poll after poll also show Democratic candidates winning in Republican districts and show a wave that as of now will bring in 20+ new Democrats.

Third, and potentially the most dangerous to Fossella is that the Northeast is in play this term. Northeast seats held by Republicans are likely to stay in Democratic control for a long time if they are flipped. Many of these turned Republican in the 1994 wave that started the Congressional Republican control we have seen for the last decade. Should Vito lose his seat, chances are that this seat would not be held again by a Republican for a long time, short of a major scandal rocking the Democratic Party or the incumbent. Should Vito lose this seat, one has to imagine he can lose any hopes of advancing his political career, be it mayoral aspirations or others. Not only would Republicans lose this seat, but it would cause major damage to the Republican party on Staten Island. This year we see Titone and Hyer-Spencer in tight races and causing trouble for Republicans. Should Vito lose, we could see a greater schism with the Republican and Conservative parties and that start to the downfall of the Republican leadership on the island.

Two years ago Fossella didn't feel his opponent or the constituents deserved to see him participate in a debate. There could not be a greater flip flop in terms of his strategy. Just to illustrate this, his campaign is attacking Democrats on their claiming Fossella is vulnerable;

"I think it's bizarre that John Lavelle would think that incumbents shouldn't come before the voters and talk about the issues," said Fossella campaign spokesman Craig Donner.

Forget what happened in 2004, this is 2006 must be Fossella’s plan. Forget he wanted to privatize Social Security, that is no longer his stance. Forget he helped fund similar toll plans that Harrison is proposing, that makes his attacks on Harrison seem hypocritical.

Clearly the troubles of the Republican party, be it Foley or Hastert are taking a toll on Fossella. Consider this, what does Fossella have to gain from participating in these debates? Does he feel in an election year when analysts think Republicans in New York state will stay home in droves that he has this election wrapped up and just wants to increase his margin of victory? No, he sees his own base eroding and the only way to get his own Republicans to turn out and vote for him is five final pleas. Five final chances to attack his opponent for criticizing his lack of policy on Iraq, lack of a policy on transportation issues troubling the island, lack of policy on Social Security or should I say his harmful strategy to privatize Social Security.

These five debates show us a Fossella injured by Barbaro and now struggling to keep his party (no not the Independents, I meant Republicans) afloat in this last bastion of moderate conservative voters in New York City.


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