Thursday, December 25, 2014

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NY1 Political Director Bob Hardt's daily look Inside City Hall.

NY1 ItCH: Charles Rangel's Last Hurrah

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"Oh, the days dwindle down to a precious few." – Maxwell Anderson

Charlie Rangel is entering the final full week of what he says will be the last campaign of his Congressional career.

Drumming up support for an unfamiliar June Democratic primary, the Harlem Lion now has to prowl in relatively new territory for votes: The Bronx -- where about 20 percent of the district's voters now live.

Unlike his 2010 re-election, Rangel is in good health and an ethics scandal that was percolating in the minds of some voters then is also two years further away in the distance. But after only narrowly defeating State Sen. Adriano Espaillat in that race, blood is in the water, leading many establishment Democrats who sat out that race to go with Rangel's younger rival. (Only when the incumbent is 84 years old, does a 59-year-old lawmaker seem like a spring chicken.)

But it's hard to count out Rangel – who has represented the district since 1971. Not only did a NY1 poll last month show Rangel with a lead but he's also bringing a level of energy to the campaign that's surprising given his age.

The other wild cards in the race are two lesser-known candidates who polled in the single digits in last month's survey. Michael Walrond – a pastor who recently moved into the district from New Jersey – delivered perhaps the strongest debate performance of the night, answering questions forcefully and directly. Yolanda Garcia has largely been absent from the trail – including last week's debate – and it's unclear if she can give an interview in English.

The conventional wisdom bandied about by many was that Garcia would hurt Espaillat because she's a Latina while Walrond will damage Rangel because he's black. But after watching Walrond in the debate – and hearing his supporters raucously cheer – it seems that he's tapping into a general anti-Rangel sentiment, more than stealing from the congressman's base. It's quite likely that he's eating into Espaillat's rather than Rangel's.

Because this is largely the only political game in town over the next week, expect plenty of attention to be focused on the race – which culminates on June 24th. It seems clear that "anyone but Rangel" will dominate in the voting both – but it's also very possible that the Lion will land on top.

Bob Hardt

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