Editor's Note: In the final 100 days before Election Day, CNN has been profiling one race at random each day from among the nation's top 100 House races, which we've dubbed "The CNN 100." Read the full list here. Today's featured district is:
New York 25th: Freshman Democrat vs. Tea Party favorite
Primary: September 14, 2010
Location: Central New York, stretching west of Syracuse
Days until the election: 40
In this moderate upstate New York district, freshman Democrat Rep. Dan Maffei is defending his seat against attorney Ann Marie Buerkle, a conservative Republican who has never worked in Washington, and who has lately drawn the attention of the Tea Party and national conservative leaders.
The race for this district certainly seems to have all the makings of this election year's most popular storyline of incumbent politician versus the Washington outsider.
But, in New York's 25th, the economic diversity of the district is matched only by its assorted political landscape. The district encompasses the left-leaning city of Syracuse, stretches west across dairy farms and small towns, and reaches into the more conservative suburbs of Rochester. Upstate New York veered left over the last decade, as the region struggled to overcome an ailing economy that was once a thriving industrial center.
In fact, the district had been in Republican hands for almost 30 years before Maffei easily won the open seat in 2008 - the same year that President Obama won the district by 13 points, and the state with 63 percent of the vote. Former Republican Rep. Jim Walsh retired that year in the face of one of the toughest election battles of his ten-term career.
Now Republicans hope that this year's voter dissatisfaction with Washington is enough to swing the district back into the red column, and have used Maffei's decade-long career as a Capitol Hill staffer as campaign fodder.
But it's Maffei's voting record in Washington that may prove to be most troublesome to disgruntled voters; he has consistently voted with his party on major legislation, including the health care bill, the stimulus package, and the clean energy act. According to a CQ Vote Analysis, Maffei voted in agreement with President Obama's position 94 percent of the time in 2009.
In this anti-Washington election cycle, incumbents have lost their seats for much less, and national Republicans have begun to take notice of the potential pick-up.
The National Republican Congressional Committee this week elevated Buerkle, a former Syracuse Common Councilmember and assistant state attorney general, to "contender" status in their Young Guns recruitment program.
Buerkle has also received the backing of several prominent Republicans, including House Minority Leader John Boehner and, most recently, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Buerkle's limited-government platform has also earned her the support of New York's Independence Party, Tea Party enthusiasts, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who dubbed the mother of six one of her "mama grizzlies," a term Palin coined for strong, conservative female candidates she supports.
Nonetheless, it's unclear whether the Tea Party and Palin will have the same power to mobilize voters as they have elsewhere. It is even possible that Palin's support could hurt Buerkle's chances in the moderate, and most recently blue district.
Maffei's camp practically welcomed Palin's endorsement of Buerkle, launching an ad soon after that said, "Buerkle's extreme views may have gotten Sarah Palin's support, but she's wrong for Central New York."
And despite growing attention from national Republicans, Buerkle has been unable to come close to matching Maffei's fundraising power. Maffei has raised nearly $2.3 million compared to Buerkle's $ $340,000, and maintains a nearly 10 to 1 cash advantage over his opponent.
Polls commissioned by both candidates also show Maffei with a comfortable lead, though by differing degrees. And political handicapper Charlie Cook labels the race "Likely Democrat."
Nonetheless, if anything can be learned from this year's primary season, it's that nothing is certain. Carl Paladino, New York's Republican gubernatorial nominee, was also backed by the Tea Party, and ran on a similar small government, anti-Washington platform. Paladino, who is from the neighboring upstate New York Buffalo region, was considered a long shot in his bid against the establishment-backed Rick Lazio. And though Paladino is down in the polls against Democrat Andrew Cuomo, his primary win serves as a reminder of just how fed up voters are with their elected leaders this year.
A last minute boost for Buerkle might just be enough to make New York's 25th district the next big upset in this unprecedented election cycle.