The last two Democratic congressional nominees in my home district NY-23, which stretches along the “Southern Tier,” have been Ithaca-area liberals.

Nate Shinagawa ran a credible campaign in 2012, and lost by almost exactly the party difference in the district, which is R+3. Democrats had high hopes for Martha Robertson in 2014, but she collapsed under the weight of her past progressive policies and Legal Insurrection’s investigations, and lost by 25 points.

It appears that national Democrats are giving up on running another Ithaca liberal, and are bringing in an unknown retired military officer from out of state to challenge incumbent Republican Tom Reed, as reported in the Buffalo News, Former White House military aide Plumb to challenge Rep. Tom Reed:

A former top military aide in the Obama White House has returned home to the Jamestown area to prepare to challenge Rep. Tom Reed in the 2016 election.

John F. Plumb, who served as director of defense policy and strategy at the National Security Council, told The Buffalo News that family and friends persuaded him to move back to the Southern Tier, thinking he could be a strong Democratic challenger to Reed, the Republican from Corning…

“My roots are here,” said Plumb, who was born in Jamestown and raised in Randolph, and who moved back to Lakewood in May. “Every time I’ve come back through the area, I can’t escape the feeling that the area just keeps getting left behind … The area needs someone that can represent it in a way that puts this region above politics, and that’s what I think I can do.” Plumb comes to the congressional race with a résumé that’s decidedly different from the last two Democrats who challenged Reed: Ithaca-area county legislators Nate Shinagawa and Martha Robertson.

A Notre Dame graduate with a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado, Plumb is a former Navy submarine officer who still serves as a commander in the Navy Reserves.

The Buffalo News article made clear that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) was behind the Plumb rollout:

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is tasked with electing more Democrats to the House, reached out to The Buffalo News to arrange the interview with Plumb.

The Elmira Star-Gazette also mentioned the DCCC’s role:

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee helped him reach out to reporters to announce his candidacy.

“There’s no doubt John Plumb will be an excellent candidate for New York’s 23rd District,” DCCC spokesman Jeb Fain said in an email. “Again and again, Congressman Reed has put political points before the needs of his own constituents — even voting to shut down the Department of Homeland Security. Voters are going to get a clear choice between John Plumb’s record of service and Congressman Reed’s record of playing politics.”

I emailed the DCCC spokesman mentioned in the article, asking if DCCC was backing Plumb, and also:

Should the entry of Plumb into the race with the help of DCCC be seen by local Ithaca voters as a rejection of the progressive movement here at least when it comes to candidate selection, since the two prior candidates were Ithaca-area progressives?

I also emailed Shinagawa to see if he was running, and also asking

What do you think about the DCCC backing someone so early?

Also, seems that DCCC deliberately is avoiding picking someone from Ithaca-area progressive community. Will people in Ithaca turn out to vote for a military guy who specialized in rocket technology and policy?

As of this writing, I have not heard back from the DCCC or Shinagawa.

There is precious little known about Plumb. Since he was in the military, he has not spoken out on the usual public policy issues and has no track record.

Plumb’s specialty in the military was nuclear missile technology and strategy, a topic on which he is a frequent speaker and panelist

Plumb’s official DOD biography does hint at some energy-related political positions from his time as an aide to Colorado Senator Ken Salazar:

Prior to this position, Dr. Plumb served in the office of United States Senator Ken Salazar, first as a Congressional Science and Technology Fellow through the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and subsequently on the Senator’s personal staff as his Military Legislative Advisor. In this role he helped draft legislation to ensure the destruction of World War II era chemical weapons, helped increase physical security and infrastructure at Colorado military installations, and worked to help find solutions to and raise awareness of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in service members returning from combat zones. He also worked to promote renewable energy investments and ways to reduce carbon emissions of fossil fuels, including coal gasification and carbon sequestration.

Expect opposition researchers to pour over Plumb’s time working for Salazar, but based on the public record (or lack thereof), it seems that the DCCC tried to find someone who was not your typical Ithaca-area liberal. And someone without a political history.

That is a double-edged strategy. On the one hand, “Extreme Ithaca Liberal” was a phrase that made Extreme Ithaca Liberals howl with indignation, but it was extremely effective. This ad was classic:

Ithaca also is no longer the center of the district’s universe after the post-2010 redistricting. The district now leans Republican, after prior gerrymandered districting kept Maurice “Red” Hinchey in office (in the old NY-21). So staying away from an Ithaca liberal makes sense.

But, that said, Ithaca has a lot of liberal voters who reliably vote Democratic. Will they go for a military guy, particularly one who is involved in “Star Wars” anti-missile and nuclear strategy?

Some highlights of the Ithaca Festival Parade

The Ithaca Festival Parade in 2 MINUTES!Owl Gorge Productions http://owlgorge.com

Posted by Ithaca: Gorges, Waterfalls, and Cayuga Lake on Saturday, May 30, 2015

I just don’t know if Plumb will be able to get out the Ithaca liberal vote, and without that, it’s hard for any Democrat to win.

Because of Plumb’s thin public record, the Republican reaction is focused on the carpetbagger aspect of the Plumb campaign:

After the announcement, the Reed campaign almost immediately circulated the following statement:

“Choice is what democracy is all about. During the short time the people of New York have sent us to Washington, we have been a voice for putting people to work, defending the Social Security retirement fund, and protecting the rights granted to Americans by the Constitution. My wife Jean and I grew up here, are raising our family here and have proudly called Upstate New York home for more than 40 years. We know the people of Western New York, the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes and they know us. We look forward to another campaign and trust the voters to decide who will best represent them in Washington.”

I additionally wanted to make you aware that:

  • John Plumb only registered to vote in Chautauqua County less than two weeks ago (6/25/15) after being registered in Washington, DC
  • John Plumb has not voted in New York or lived in New York for at least the last fifteen years and actually owns a house in Colorado that he called home before moving to the District of Columbia
  • As a District of Columbia resident John Plumb voted there most recently last year in the 2014 election but only voted in fewer than half of the elections he was eligible to vote in, including missing the important 2010 Congressional election

The National Republican Congressional Campaign released this statement:

“John Plumb is out-of-touch with the hardworking families of NY-23, which shouldn’t be a surprise since he hasn’t lived here for many years. Plumb is sorely mistaken if he thinks his record as a top military aide to Barack Obama is a good thing when you consider just how disastrous and unsafe Obama’s foreign policy has been for our country.” –NRCC Spokesman Chris Pack

The Tompkins and Yates Counties Republican Committees circulated a statement focusing on Plumb’s lack of recent connection to the district and Plumb’s service in the Obama administration:

James Drader of Tompkins County and Sandy King of Yates County are releasing a document showing that John Plumb remains an active registered voter in the District of Columbia and failed to vote in person or by absentee or military ballot In half of the Washington elections he was eligible to vote in, including the 2010 general election.

Additionally, they note that Plumb just registered to vote in Chautauqua County on June 25th, 2015 according to Chautauqua County Board of Elections records.

“I am stunned that they think the voters would support someone who hasn’t voted or lived in New York in the last 15 years. We want someone who has been with us and understands the dynamics in New York State, and more particularly the 23rd District, said Drader, Chairman of the Tompkins County Republican Party. “This seems to be straight from the Nancy Pelosi playbook; another Eric Massa dropping in from Washington who has not created a single job in upstate New York or anywhere else.”

“This is someone who was living in Washington for the last ten years and working for the administration and was an advisor on the failed foreign policy of the Obama administration,” said Sandy King, the Chairman of the Yates County Republican Party. “The biggest issue we face here in the Finger Lakes is job creation and economic development and a bureaucrat from Washington does not have the experience to create jobs and develop our economy.”

Here is the initial Daily Kos evaluation of the race (Kos actually has good election coverage):

• NY-23: Rep. Tom Reed decisively turned back a credible Democratic challenge from Martha Robertson during last year’s GOP wave, but Team Blue hasn’t forgotten about his unexpectedly weak 52-48 victory two years earlier. Naval reservist John Plumb, who served as the White House National Security Council’s director for defense policy and strategy, kicked off his campaign this week, and the DCCC sounds excited about him. Romney carried this seat 50-48 and Plumb will need to prove he can raise the type of money he’ll need, but Democrats will be happy to have a contender who can’t easily be caricatured as a “far out Ithaca liberal” like Robertson was.

Will the district will welcome someone parachuting in for a Congressional run? Even if Plumb is a stand-up military guy — which would be a big plus — there is something unseemly about someone moving to the district and not putting in his dues.

Also, will there be other truly local Democrats who are not going to let the DCCC dictate who runs against Reed?

It should be an interesting race. Whether the race ends up out of this world, as in 2014, will depend on how blank a slate the DCCC managed to find.

[Featured Image: Ad attacking Democrat Martha Robertson in 2012 election.]