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New York's House races could drive a GOP majority

By Dana Bash, CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent
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GOP targets Democrats in New York
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • GOP trying to grab half dozens House seats in New York
  • John Hall running on his vote for health care reform
  • Hall opponent Nan Hayworth wants to dismantle health care
  • GOP strategists concerned about Paladino effect

The midterm battle comes to the forefront Tuesday. It's Election Day in America, and you won't miss a result by following CNN, starting at 7 ET Tuesday night.

New York (CNN) -- Democratic Congressman John Hall, D-NY, knows all about election year waves. Four years ago he rode one into office, unseating a six-term Republican in his suburban New York district.

Now, he's fighting a GOP tide.

"The people are not happy," Hall told CNN in an interview outside a business expo in Cortland, New York.

"We're not out of the recession yet and my answer to that is that we shouldn't give the keys to the car back to the people who drove us into the ditch," said Hall, echoing a familiar refrain from President Obama.

Hall is neck and neck with his opponent, Nan Hayworth, who is a political novice. She is an ophthalmologist who preaches Republican doctrine.

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"We need to change the way this Congress sees the relationship between this government and the people," Hayworth told CNN before going into the same business expo.

"We are becoming, we as people, as citizens are becoming the servants of our government, they are taking far too much," said Hayworth.

Explore the House races

The tight battle in New York's 19th district is one of half a dozen Democratic House seats in the Empire State that Republicans are trying to snatch. It's a huge number in play for one state, and crucial to a House GOP takeover.

John McLaughlin, a Republican pollster working on a number of New York races, says the state has more seats up for grabs than any other.

"The state with the most upside for Republicans is New York state," said McLaughlin told CNN, "we have the most to gain here because we've lost the most over the years."

Of New York's 29 House seats, only two are currently held by Republicans.

Although New York is known as a reliably blue state in the way it votes for the president and the U.S. Senate, it wasn't that long ago that about half of the House delegation was GOP.

The six or so Democratic seats Republicans think they have the best chance at winning back on Tuesday are those they've most recently lost.

Republicans are poised to pick up former Democratic Congressman Eric Massa's district, after he resigned amid sexual harassment charges. Massa had only taken his NY-29 seat out of GOP hands in 2008.

Two other prime GOP targets are two Democrats who won special elections: Rep. Scott Murphy in NY-20, and Rep. Bill Owens in NY-23.

Then there is a pair of freshmen Democrats in conservative upstate New York: Rep. Michael Arcuri in NY-24 and Rep. Dan Maffei in neighboring NY-25. GOP sources tell CNN they feel more confident about defeating Arcuri than they do Maffei.

There are also a handful of additional seats that Republicans say they're hopeful about winning if they have a stellar election night, including races against Rep Tim Bishop in NY-1, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy in NY-4, Rep Mike McMahon in NY-13 and Maurice Hinchey in NY-22.

"If you need 39 [seats to win the majority], you could literally pick up one sixth or one seventh of what you need right here in New York," said McLaughlin.

Democrats scoff at that.

"Let them set that expectation," said Jennifer Crider, spokeswoman with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

"Democrats are very confident that New York members are going to be successful on Tuesday and continue their fight for middle class New Yorkers," said Jennifer Crider.

One factor multiple Republican sources say they do worry about is Carl Paladino, the GOP candidate for governor, who is trailing in most polls by double digits. GOP strategists say they're concerned Paladino will drag otherwise formidable Republican candidates down.

In the race for the House, one of the most interesting too-close-to call contests in New York is the one we visited between Rep. Hall and Hayworth, his GOP challenger.

The dynamics are emblematic of many competitive races across the country. It is a fiscally conservative suburban district that had been represented for 12 years by moderate Republican Sue Kelly, but turned Democrat with the 2006 election of John Hall.

But now, the sour economy and concern about the direction in Washington has helped make the race a dead heat.

However, one thing notably different about the Democratic incumbent here from most of his embattled colleagues is that Hall is actually running on his vote for the new health care law.

"This is a good bill in most respects and I don't apologize for it," said Hall.

When told that he is one of the few vulnerable Democrats not afraid to campaign on health care, Hall replied "that's why people elected me."

"I think it needs to be fixed. There are things about it that I wish were in there that aren't, and some things that are that I wish weren't," said Hall, "but I don't think you should walk away from 75 percent."

His opponent, a doctor, calls repealing the health care law her top priority.

"It will take away choice and control, it will thwart innovation," said Hayworth, "It's really not what Americans deserve or desire from their health care."

Like many other GOP candidates around the country, Hayworth wants to reduce the size and scope of government, and says a number of federal agencies deserve scrutiny. She says some, like the Department of Education, may deserve to be eliminated.

Hall accuses Hayworth of wanting to privatize Medicare and Social Security, and paints her as extreme.

"The only way in which I can be viewed as extreme is if someone's looking at me from the very far left," says Hayworth, who says she supports abortion rights and believes same-sex marriage should be left to the states.

Hayworth is part of a crop of conservative women running for office this year, many for the first time.

"What I want to see is every woman that feels that she should have a voice be able to have a voice ," said Hayworth, who said women can succeed in the conservative movement "as long as we don't feel intimidated and feel that we can have a voice and take a stand. And I'm happy to tell you that I never ever in my life felt intimidated."

Hayworth may be a political new comer, but the Democratic congressman she is trying to unseat isn't a lifelong politician either. Hall was in rock and roll, and his band, "Orleans," had several top hits in the 1970s.

"You're Still The One," is perhaps Hall's most famous song.

"We're still having fun, and you're still the one," the congressman reluctantly sang to us.

He hopes that's what voters say to him on Tuesday.

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