With the 2014 midterm elections more than a year away, Republicans are having a hard time finding a candidate to challenge Democratic Rep. Dan Maffei.
Two weeks after former U.S. Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle, R-Onondaga Hill, announced her decision not to run for Congress next year, Onondaga County Comptroller Bob Antonacci also decided to pass on the race.
If you count Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney saying she wasn't interested in running, that leaves Republicans without three of the biggest names who were mentioned as potential congressional candidates.
Onondaga County Republican Chairman Tom Dadey said once this year's local elections are complete, the party will focus on finding a candidate to challenge Maffei, D-Syracuse. He's also confident the 24th Congressional District seat is a winnable race for the GOP.
"Once we get (the elections) behind us, there's several people who have expressed an interest. We'll be talking to those folks in the coming months," he said. "It's not like the mayor of Syracuse where it's an uphill battle for us to win that seat. This is a seat we can win. We proved we can win it. We won it in 2010 and it's a seat we can win in an off-presidential year. We'll have a candidate."
While Dadey didn't mention any names of potential challengers, one Republican said he is still exploring a possible run for Congress.
Syracuse attorney Rick Guy, who first said in July he was weighing a run, said he intends to travel to Washington next week for meetings. He also plans on meeting with leaders of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the House Republicans' campaign arm.
"I am still exploring with increasing interest and positive encouragement," Guy said in an email Thursday.
If Republicans find a serious challenger, the 24th Congressional District race will be one of the top contests in the nation. While some pundits point to President Barack Obama's performance in the district in 2012 — Obama, a Democrat, won the district with 57 percent of the vote — Maffei received less than half — 49 percent — of the vote in a three-way contest against Buerkle and Green Party foe Ursula Rozum.
Maffei will be a tough incumbent to beat. He has a more moderate voting record this time around, which should help him pick up a few more Republican votes, and he's a strong fundraiser. But it's not impossible for a GOP candidate to win this race. (See Buerkle, in 2010.)
Political prognosticators put the race in the Democrats' column. Cook Political Report and Larry Sabato's Crystal both rate the NY-24 contest "likely Democratic." Rothenberg Political Report gives the race a "Democrat favored" rating.
But that will change if a strong Republican candidate emerges. And if outside groups and party committees get involved, the NY-24 race will be one of the most competitive in the nation.