- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 15, 2008

New York Republicans are fanning voter anger over rising gas prices and high taxes in an effort to oust Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, a freshman Democrat whose upstate district is considered one of the few places where embattled House Republicans could pick up a seat this year.

For weeks, Republican candidate Sandy Treadwell has aired a TV ad in the upper Hudson River Valley district that proclaims the Democrat-led Congress has “played politics with energy and failed to get things done.”

“Now gas costs $4,” it says.

In another TV spot - his mostly self-financed campaign is spending $75,000 a week on the media blitz - the former state Republican Party chief and New York secretary of state under then-Gov. George E. Pataki promises to rescue voters from paying “the highest taxes in America.”

The rhetoric likely resonates in New York, where voters shoulder some of the largest tax burdens and pay more than most for fuel.

According to the AAA the average price of regular gas in New York topped $4.30 Friday, the sixth-highest in the country behind Alaska, California, Hawaii, Connecticut and Washington state.

The clash over energy and economic policies also will play out in the presidential race and congressional campaigns across the country, with Democrats calling for more alternative-energy research and government aid for struggling families, while Republicans push for more domestic oil drilling and tax cuts.

The same partisan disputes tied Congress in knots this year.

Mrs. Gillibrand is not named in the TV ads, but Mr. Treadwell has taken some swipes at her.

“Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand, along with House Democrats, voted … for a week-long vacation before passing any significant legislation to lower energy costs or help to make us energy independent,” he said in a recent press release.

“The tough talk and strong rhetoric we hear from this Congress rings hollow because our leaders have done little on energy issues and we are being forced to pay the price for their failures,” he said.

Republican Party strategists say Mrs. Gillibrand will be hit for backing liberal House Democratic leaders, including opposing more domestic oil drilling and voting for a budget critics call the largest tax increase in U.S. history.

Such attacks “just show fear,” said Edna Ishayik, executive director of the New York State Democratic Committee. She said New York Republicans are on the ropes, having lost three U.S. House seats and a state Senate seat in 2006 and then two more state Senate seats in recent special elections.

“No one is taking anything for granted, but [Mrs. Gillibrand] has done a great job preparing for this fight,” she said.

Mrs. Gillibrand, who scored a narrow upset victory in the rural, Republican-leaning district in 2006, prepared to parry attacks from the right by building a conservative Blue Dog Democrat voting record.

She often points to legislation she sponsored that would have cracked down on oil speculation to help lower fuel prices and to bills she supported that would have increased tax credits for child care, college tuition and winter home-heating expenses.

A tax break on home-heating oil would be welcome relief in her district, which extends north past Albany along the state’s eastern border with Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont.

“It is imperative that the Congress take immediate steps to ensure that our families will be able to heat their homes this winter,” Mrs. Gillibrand said recently, touting a bill that would give a $500 tax credit to households spending more than $1,500 on heating costs this winter. “We can’t wait till the weather begins to change to take action.”

Gillibrand spokeswoman Rachel McEneny said Republican were peddling “half-truths and false claims” about her boss’ energy stance.

“I think [voters] have found that she’s a breath of fresh air,” Mrs. McEneny said “This race is about whether Congresswoman Gillibrand has done a good job.”

However, Matthew Walter, executive director of the New York Republican State Committee, said the tax and gas issues will keep Mrs. Gillibrand on the defensive.

New York voters “are getting hammered on taxes, and they are getting hammered at the pump,” Mr. Walter said. “She should and will be rightly judged on what she has delivered, or in our view, what she failed to deliver.”

Mr. Treadwell, who is the front-runner in the Republican primary race but must win the nomination in the Sept. 8 vote, would benefit from the support of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).

“Sandy Treadwell is an incredibly strong candidate who understands that Washington is broken and badly in need of changing,” said NRCC spokesman Ken Spain. “His positions in favor of lower taxes, less government spending, and lower gas prices stand in direct contrast to Kirsten Gillibrand’s tax-and-spend, anti-drilling record. Voters are going to have a clear choice in this election.”

Mrs. Gillibrand, who recently has enjoyed positive press coverage following the birth of a child in May, benefits from being the incumbent and has proven herself to be an aggressive fundraiser. She leads the field in the money race and has twice as much campaign cash on hand as Mr. Treadwell, who is spending $948,000 out of his own pocket.

Mrs. Gillibrand has raised more than $3.1 million and has $2.4 million cash on hand. Mr. Treadwell raised about $2.6 million and has about $928,000 cash on hand, according to campaign-finance reports compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Republicans are convinced that Mrs. Gillibrand will lack the added momentum of a national Democratic wave that helped carry her to victory in 2006 and she will face a much tougher opponent in Mr. Treadwell. Last time, incumbent Republican Rep. John E. Sweeney was hobbled the week before the election by a newspaper report about a nearly year-old domestic-abuse complaint his wife made to police.

“We look at 2006 as an extreme aberration that should be corrected in this election cycle,” Mr. Walter said, noting that registered Republicans outnumber Democrats in the district by more than 75,000.

The district has 192,118 registered Republicans and 116,781 registered Democrats. The state’s Independence Party registered 22,055 and the Conservative Party has 9,055, according to State Board of Elections data cited by Mr. Walter.

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