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It is the pastime of pundits and political watchers, and a serious topic of conversation whenever their twains do meet.

In another arena it's called handicapping the horses, and nowhere has the handicapping been more furious in recent weeks than in the Third Congressional District, where registered Republican Carolyn McCarthy will again receive the Democratic nod, and where the Republicans are now seeking to find a suitable candidate of their own.

What makes the dynamics of the race particularly interesting this year is that, reportedly, Republican Senator Alphonse D'Amato is deathly afraid that a bloody, controversial race in McCarthy's district will undermine his own bid for re-election.

With that as a backdrop, five individuals have thus far emerged as possible challengers to McCarthy. These are Nassau County Republican Chairman Joseph N. Mondello, former Congressman Dan Frisa, Geri Barish, of the 1 in 9 Breast Cancer Coalition, Rick Hinshaw of the Long Island Catholic newspaper, and Steven and Patti McDonald.

What makes batting their names around so compelling is that each of the candidates comes to the table with an number of tantalizing positives.

For instance, while many express surprise that Nassau County Republican Chairman Joe Mondello would be interested in making a bid for the seat, consider that he began his career aspiring to being a government official, not a political titan. Though his tenure as presiding officer in the Town of Hempstead was relatively brief, consider too that it was also marked by progressiveness and by a very evident compassion for the rank and file citizen. Consider as well that during his 15 year tenure as Republican Party chairman, he restored the integrity of an organization that had been crippled by scandal. Recently, the chairman has begun reaching out to and promoting candidates from outside the Republican mainstream, including women and African-Americans. All of these facts make him a potent electoral force to be reckoned with if he should decide to make the run.

Former Congressman Dan Frisa, of course entered the race having occupied the office as recently as two years ago. Though some continue to insist on not forgetting his vote to repeal the Federal Assault Weapons ban and his independent streak when it comes to party politics, he brings to the table experience in both the New York State Assembly and the United States Congress, as well as drive and a determination to win. Since Congresswoman McCarthy has neither proposed gun control legislation while she's been in Congress, or come out in support of local candidates who support her anti-gun views (i.e. Doreen Banks in the most recent race for New York State Senate), her battle against Frisa this year would have to be based on something other than his controversial vote. What makes a comeback for Frisa particularly more likely is the fact that the incumbent will have to run on her record in office... and that record is very, very thin on accomplishments.

Geri Barish Of the 1 in 9 Breast Cancer Coalition and executive director of the Hewlett House Breast Cancer Resource Center is widely considered to be a potential up and comer in Republican political circles. Not only has she been an outspoken advocate for breast cancer victims having twice been a victim herself but she has also turned her tragedy into a progressive lobbying effort that resulted in governmental action on both the local and the state level. A seasoned spokeswoman for this and a host of other causes, she couples activism with homegrown political savvy. Particularly appealing to many in the know: the fact that she can run a campaign that would complement, in a very positive way, Senator D'Amatos own efforts, her race highlighting his own efforts in the realm of breast cancer legislation.

A newcomer to the congressional races, the Long Island Catholic's Rick Hinshaw is seen in Republican circles as someone who could erode one of McCarthy's natural bases Roman Catholics, while also bringing the spotlight to bear on her pro-abortion rights position. Though not believed to be a formidable enough candidate to actually win, a bid by Hinshaw is seen as the part of a long-term strategy to erode her support without taking her on would be tantamount to saying, I really made a mistake in believing in her two years ago.

There is still a long, long way to go between today and the Republican county convention in late May. Who eventually runs against McCarthy is now just anybody's guess. It will be interesting indeed to see who eventually garners the nomination.

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