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Mr. Obama carried the district last year over Republican rival Sen. John McCain with 52 percent of the vote, though President George W. Bush won the district in 2004. Democrat Eliot Spitzer carried it in his 2006 gubernatorial campaign, as did Mrs. Clinton that same year.

“This is winnable with the right candidate, but it will be tough,” said Shripal Shah, a DCCC campaign spokesman. “Right now our focus is working with local Democrats to begin the process of recruiting our candidate.”

Still, Democrats acknowledge that they do not have much of a party structure in the district because of the Republicans’ political dominance there over the decades. Party registration favors the Republican Party 167,272 to 120,887.

But Democrats recently have made inroads in the district. State Assemblyman Darrel Aubertine won his seat in 2008 and is considering a possible bid for the House vacancy.

“This is a district that has increasingly trended in favor of the Democrats, but we believe it is winnable with a candidate who can carry on John McHugh’s legacy of working across party lines,” said Paul Lindsay, spokesman for the NRCC.

Even with the 23rd District’s long-held Republican history, election trackers say the contest is impossible to forecast right now.

“The Democrats have a chance there, but it will be difficult if not virtually impossible to handicap the race without knowing who the nominees are, and we may not know that for a couple of months. Right now, our initial rating of the race is a sheer tossup,” said Nathan Gonzales, a political editor at the Rothenberg Political Report.