Obama hands Dems an opportunity with McHugh nomination

President Obama's decision to nominate Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.) to be Secretary of the Army has given Democrats and opportunity to pick up a House seat in New York.

McHugh's upstate 23rd District has trended blue in recent cycles. In 2000, George W. Bush (R) carried it over Al Gore (D) by a 49 percent to 47 percent margin. The following cycle Bush carried it again, this time 51 percent to 47 percent over John Kerry (D). But last year, President Obama (D) turned the district blue it gave him 52 percent to John McCain's (R) 47 percent.

Democrats have previously looked to target McHugh but haven't found the right candidate to take on the Republican, who has proven to be formidable politically. McHugh won reelection last year with 65 percent of the vote despite Obama's presence on the ballot. In fact, the nine termer's worst electoral performance was in 1992 when he still won comfortably with 61 percent.

So by getting him out of his seat, Obama likely has given Democrats their best opportunity to pick up the district, which Charlie Cook rates as Republican +1.

Democrats hopes will also be bolstered by their recent success in the special election for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's (D) former House seat. In that race, Democrat Scott Murphy overcame a 70,000 Republican voter registration advantage to defeat Republican Assemblyman Jim Tedisco. Democrats say the victory is another sign the state is trending blue.

But Democrats will face some challenges. Republicans hold a 46,000 voter registration advantage in McHugh's district. And, on top of that, Democrats won't have the benefit of Gillibrand's campaign infrastructure that was already in place for Murphy. There are also no candidates on the Democrats' radar screen for the seat yet.

jeremy.jacobs@thehill.com