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Republican voters to select challenger to Gillibrand in Tuesday primary

WBFO News photo

It’s the first time in around 40 years that New York has held June primaries.

The state was forced to change the date from September to be in compliance with a federal  rule that requires  adequate time between primary day and election day to distribute election ballots to service men and women overseas.  

Turn out is expected to be low, for that reason and a number of other factors.  

The only statewide primary features three largely unknown candidates who want a shot at running against US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

New York City attorney and conservative commentator and working mother Wendy Long, has called herself the opposite of Gillibrand. She says despite having similar backgrounds and professions and life situations they have very different world views.   

“We couldn’t be more different,” said Long who says her candidacy creates a “very clear contrast”.

Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos touts his financial experience and his Greek immigrant background as assets in the race.

“I think I’ve demonstrated my determination, my tenacity,” Maragos said.  

Congressman Bob Turner is perhaps the best known of the three. Turner won a special election to replace Brooklyn Congressman Anthony Weiner,   who resigned over a sex scandal.  Turner , who is being redistricted out of his congressional seat says he wants to “fix what’s wrong with this country on a big scale” .

Siena College pollster and political analyst Steve Greenberg says all three face an uphill battle in Tuesday’s contest.

“They’re not well known at all,” said Greenberg, who says even Republican voters are barely aware of  the candidates.  

Greenberg says there is one advantage the three challengers have. Whoever wins on Tuesday has four months to make their case against Senator Gillibrand, compared to the old system, where a September primary left about seven weeks for a new comer to wage a general election battle.

But Greenberg says there’s a major disadvantage to Tuesday’s primary winner. Gillibrand, who was appointed by former Governor David Paterson to replace Hillary Clinton, has already won an election for her job, in 2010, and she’s fairly popular and  has a significant campaign war chest.

Plus, he says, in Presidential election years, like 2012 , Democratic candidates usually fare better.

There are some hotly contested congressional primaries, including a race in a district that includes parts of Brooklyn and Queens between Democrats Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries and outspoken City Councilman Charles Barron for a seat held by the retiring Ed Towns.  

Long time Congressman Charles Rangel , who was in trouble recently for ethics violations, has four Democratic party primary challengers.  And in a district that includes parts of Binghamton and  Utica, Republican  Richard Hanna is fighting Tea Party activist Michael Kicinski.  

Greenberg, with Siena polling, says higher interest in some of the local republican congressional primaries may turn the statewide GOP Senate primary towards one of the three candidates, but he says it’s really too difficult to predict who might have a chance of winning most of the contests.

He jokes that “people who try to make predictions” in the races are “taking their lives in their own hands”.  

One thing Greenberg is not reluctant to predict concerning Tuesday’s primaries is potentially record low turnout.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.