Republican congressman Jim Walsh, a 10-term incumbent, announced in January that he will not be seeking re-election this year. This creates an open seat in New York’s 25th District, located in Central and Western New York, which includes the city of Syracuse and the eastern suburbs of Rochester. In 2006, Walsh barely held back a challenge from Democrat Dan Maffei, a former aide to Rep. Charles Rangel. Maffei came within 4,000 votes of unseating Walsh, who won 51% to 49%. After losing, Maffei announced that he would be running again in 2008 and has been campaigning and raising money ever since.

The surprise retirement announcement from Rep. Walsh left local Republicans scrambling to find a replacement. When the consensus candidate, popular former State Fair Director Peter Cappuccilli, dropped out of the race for health reasons, Dale Sweetland, former Chairman of the Onondaga County Legislature, became the favorite in the race, announcing his candidacy in April of this year.Dale Sweetland has experience in both the public and private sectors. He was the owner of Sweetland Farms, a family dairy operation that he managed for 25 years. He has also worked in the agribusiness industry and sold crop insurance for many years. In 1988, he was elected Town Supervisor of Fabius, a rural community in southern Onondaga County. He remained Town Supervisor until his election to the Onondaga County Legislature in 1994. He became Chairman of the Onondaga County Legislature in 2002, and was re-elected Chairman in 2004 in a unanimous, bipartisan vote. According to the bio on his campaign website, “throughout his tenure as Chairman of the Legislature, Dale demonstrated his commitment to the taxpayers of Onondaga County by cutting $26 million from county executive budget requests. He also reduced the county workforce by 8% through attrition, not layoffs. From 2003 through 2007, the county tax rate dropped 13%.”

In 2007, Sweetland announced that he would seek the office of County Executive, a seat being vacated by longtime County Executive Nick Pirro, a Republican. In a heated primary with Joanie Mahoney, a former Syracuse common councilor and 2005 mayoral candidate, Sweetland lost by just 21 votes out of more than 20,000 cast. In the general election, Mahoney went on to beat her Democrat opponent, state assemblyman Bill Magnarelli, in a landslide, 58% to 36%.

Sweetland is making energy policy the cornerstone of his campaign. He has released a “four point plan” that includes a call for more energy exploration, continued investment in alternative energy, encouraging conservation, and lowering of fuel taxes. Sweetland favors lifting the ban on drilling offshore and has embarked on a “Talk Energy Tour” where he discusses energy issues with families around the district at their homes and in town hall meetings. He has challenged Dan Maffei to debate energy policy after it was left off of a list of topics the Democrat suggested he was willing to debate. Maffei, of course, proposes a windfall profits tax on “Big Oil” as his solution to the energy problem, but I’ll have more on him later.

Dale Sweetland is a real conservative and a great match for the district. His background and experience will serve him well representing the people of New York’s 25th. The only poll that has been released for the district was done in late April and showed Sweetland and Maffei tied at 36%, with 27% undecided, only three weeks after Sweetland announced his candidacy and before he officially became the nominee. Maffei has been running for almost three years, so this is a good sign for Sweetland’s campaign, although it is clear that he has some work to do.

NY-25 has been consistently rated the #1 most competitive congressional race all year, until recently when CQ Politics moved the race from “No Clear Favorite” to “Leans Democrat” based on Maffei’s fundraising success as part of the DCCC’s “Red to Blue” program. Due to his late start, Dale Sweetland has some catching up to do in order to keep this race competitive.

Visit the Sweetland ’08 campaign website and consider making a contribution to his efforts. Add .08 to your donation so he knows that it’s from RedState. This is a seat in the heart of New York that Republicans need to keep!