(CNN) - Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand's promotion to the United States Senate gives the Republicans an opportunity to score a campaign victory early this year.
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Gillibrand's House seat will remain open until New York State Governor David Paterson schedules a special election. That contest needs to take place 30-40 days from when Paterson issues a proclamation on a special election - but the timing of that announcement is up to the governor.
Paterson today named Gillibrand to fill New York's vacant Senate seat, which opened up after Hillary Clinton resigned to serve as Secretary of State.
Until today, Gillibrand represented New York's 20th congressional district, which stretches from Dutchess county, at the northern fringe of the New York City suburbs, all the way north to Saratoga, Washington and Warren counties in the northern part of the state and west to Green and Delaware counties in the northern Catskills region.
The district is conservative and was considered a safe Republican seat until Gillibrand knocked off then Republican Congressman John Sweeney in an ugly campaign battle in 2006. Gillibrand won that election by 6 points, and re-election to the seat by 24 points in 2008.
Despite her landslide victory, the district continues to lean Republican. "We view this as a potential opportunity,” says Ken Spain, Communications Director at the National Republican Congressional Committee. “The party central committee will decide on a candidate and we will assess the situation from there, but first Governor Paterson will need to decide on a special election date."
Democrats acknowledge that will be a challenge to keep the seat, but they point out that Barack Obama won the district by a small margin in November.
One Democratic strategist says that the party’s priority will be making sure their candidate has the necessary resources to run an aggressive voter contact program.