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Reed foes focus on jobs, the economy

Democratic voters in the Southern Tier will go to the polls Tuesday to choose among three candidates vying for the chance to oppose Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, this fall.

And, they are three candidates with much in common.

They're all young, all tuned first and foremost to the economy and jobs, and all dismiss Reed as a way-too-conservative tea party acolyte.

But there are some key differences. Only one -- Tompkins County Legislator Nate Shinagawa -- has experience in elective office. Only one -- Ithaca lawyer Leslie Danks Burke -- has worked in Washington. And only one -- underfunded Owego lawyer and educator Melissa Dobson -- favors "fracking."

Here's a look at the three candidates:

>Nate Shinagawa

At 28, Shinagawa is the most politically experienced of the three candidates, having served on the Tompkins County Legislature for six years.

He has the endorsement of five Democratic county organizations, including those in Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties.

And he had raised $187,234 as of June 6, enough to spread his name far and wide in the sprawling new 23rd Congressional District, which stretches from the shores of Lake Erie all the way to Tioga County, west of Binghamton.

A hospital system administrator by trade, Shinagawa moved to the Southern Tier from California to attend Cornell University and never left.

And now, he says, he's the best-equipped candidate to take on Reed, an affable first-term Republican, in a district where the GOP has only a 3 percentage point edge.

"I'm the only candidate with a record," Shinagawa said, noting that he has served not only on the Legislature, but also the Economic Development Corporation that has brought $56 million in investments to Tompkins County in recent years.

That's important, he said, because jobs and the economy are key issues in the race.

>Leslie Danks Burke

At 37, Burke is the oldest candidate in the race, and she has a broad background.

She has the support of several county legislators from across the district and the Democratic chairman in Allegany County.

And she had raised $222,494 as of June 6, including $55,745 that she gave her own campaign.

A Colorado native, Burke moved to Ithaca in 2004 after two years as a legislative analyst in Washington and several years at an international law firm in New York.

Agreeing with Shinagawa that jobs and the economy are the key issues in the race, she stressed that she would bring an attitude of compromise to Washington to address those issues.

>Melissa Dobson

Dobson, 36, is the clear underdog.

She trails in endorsements and has not raised enough money to even have to report to the Federal Election Commission.

But she's hoping to make up for that with a grass-roots effort that has her driving across the district to meet voters.

A native of Painted Post, in Steuben County, she worked as a teacher before earning a law degree and working for the office of the state attorney general.

She vows to focus on education and the economy if elected to Congress.

And unlike Shinagawa and Burke -- who oppose hydraulic fracturing to unearth the natural gas beneath the Southern Tier -- she cautiously supports it.

"I see it as progress," she said.