Is this the worst congressional race in US?

When asked during a debate to name the title of the last book they'd read, both candidates of New York's 11th congressional district were stumped.

Richard Drew/AP
Incumbent Republican Rep. Michael Grimm (l.) and Democratic challenger Domenic Recchia shake hands before a recorded, televised debate for the 11th Congressional District race on Oct. 17, 2014, at WABC-TV in New York.

In this House race, one candidate is facing a 20-count federal indictment. He once threatened to throw a reporter off a balcony for asking an impertinent question.

The other knows little about the district and speaks in bursts of clichés. He points to involvement with a student exchange program as evidence of his knowledge of foreign affairs.

Asked at a debate the title of the last book they’ve read, neither could answer.

 “Wow. It’s been a while. I haven’t had time to read,” noted the candidate who is facing the federal charges.

This is the contest for New York’s 11th congressional district. Or, as Jon Stewart called it on "The Daily Show," “Democalypse 2014.”

It pits incumbent Rep. Michael Grimm (R) against former New York City Council member Domenic Recchia (D) for the right to represent a district that includes Staten Island and parts of southern Brooklyn.

You may remember Representative Grimm from all his news coverage last January. That’s when he threatened to toss a local TV reporter off a Capitol balcony for asking about the federal indictment. He made the mistake of doing this while the camera was still running.

Given Grimm’s troubles, Democrats might have opted for a strong candidate and an easy seat pick-up. Instead, party standard-bearer Recchia gives new meaning to the phrase “unimpressive on the stump.” Plus, he’s from the small portion of the district that’s in Brooklyn. Most of the voters reside in the Staten Island section instead.

But what if you had to endorse one of these candidates? That’s the situation that faced the editors of the Staten Island Advance. In response they produced an editorial that’s a classic of its kind and has the punditocracy howling on social media.

“There are, on occasion, electoral races in which both candidates are of high quality and high integrity and conduct a tough but fair campaign about the issues . . . The election for the House of Representatives in the 11th New York Congressional District is nothing like that,” writes the Advance.

Spoiler alert: the paper chose incumbent Grimm as its endorsee. Yes, he’s in trouble with the law, but there’s a difference between “indicted” and “convicted,” notes the Advance. His legal troubles involve alleged tax evasion and other offenses supposed to have been carried out before his election to Congress.

On the plus side, Grimm has a good handle on the issues, generally represents the opinions of Staten Island voters, and is good at constituent service, says the paper.

“We are not overlooking Mr. Grimm’s considerable legal woes, of course,” says the Advance. “To have Staten Island’s congressman under federal indictment has been a black mark on this borough and has made it the laughingstock of the nation.

“Unfortunately, his opponent’s astonishing incoherence in public statements only adds to the ridiculousness,” the paper concludes.

If Grimm’s reelected, and then convicted of any crime, he should step down from office, the Advance editors say. And the first part of that chain of events seems quite possible, at least. Polls generally show Grimm a few points in the lead. And the latest rating from University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato says the race leans toward the Republican heading into its final days.

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