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Uncertainty clouds political process

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Potential political challengers in the north country and around New York state are always at a disadvantage, lacking the bully pulpit of incumbent politicians and their fundraising capabilities.

And this year, it’s even more pronounced as a double whammy of uncertainty — the state’s district lines aren’t yet finalized and the primary dates for state and federal elections could yet be moved — hangs like a cloud over the electoral process.

“I can’t imagine anybody who’s considering a serious run for any legislative seat in the state of New York not weighing the issue of redistricting,” said Brian S. McGrath, a Lewis County Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for the Assembly in 2010 and won’t run again this year. “Frankly, it’s probably the No. 1 consideration for most people contemplating runs at the moment. It was without question at the top of the list of things I was discussing with people in Albany when weighing my political future.”

Mr. McGrath is not alone, according to reports from many media outlets in the state, including the New York Times and Gannett News Service. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo dubbed the uncertainty “incumbency protection.”

Every 10 years, the state redraws its political boundaries to account for population shifts. The state still hasn’t come out with proposed maps for congressional districts — expected in March, leading to a June 26 primary, unless a last-minute deal is struck. And the districts for the state Assembly and Senate aren’t finalized, either; the date of that primary could be Sept. 11, June 26 or a date in August.

That gives challengers, unsure of what district they reside in, less time to establish candidacies and put into place the finer workings of a campaign apparatus. Incumbents, and to a lesser extent candidates who have been on the scene for years, aren’t facing the same crunch for time.

It could play out in the 23rd Congressional District. Gathering valid signatures from a certain number of registered members of a political party is the first hurdle that candidates must clear to get on the ballot. Without a deep and established organization, and the help of county committee members to carry out the onerous door-knocking tasks, outsider candidates could struggle to keep up with some of the basic first steps.

At her campaign kickoff earlier this month, Kellie Greene was asked what effect the uncertainty could have on her hopes to upset the more established candidate, Matthew A. Doheny. Mr. Doheny has been laying the groundwork for a rematch since his 2010 loss.

“It means I have to drive a little faster,” Ms. Greene said.

There’s a flip side to that coin, too. A federal judge accepted a political calendar offered by Democrats that would cut the petition-gathering time by about a week, but would reduce the number of signatures needed by 25 percent.

Ms. Greene and Mr. Doheny are the only Republicans so far to have registered their candidacies in hopes of taking on Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, in the November election, though others have signaled interest in entering the race.

Field work, too, becomes more difficult in a district whose boundaries are unknown. Where should a candidate hold a public rally? Is it worth the effort to visit Madison County, where the 23rd Congressional District now sprawls, if there’s a chance it will be excised from the district?

Jude R. Seymour, a spokesman for Mr. Doheny, noted that the 23rd Congressional District is expected to remain relatively intact.

“As a result, we’ve been able to actively build a team and volunteer network for the past nine months,” Mr. Seymour said in an email message. “Whenever the petition period begins, our supporters stand ready to collect Republican, Conservative and Independence signatures.”

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