The winner of New York’s 19th congressional district will gain just four months in office, filling the seat vacated by Democrat Antonio Delgado when he became New York’s lieutenant governor.
But the Aug. 23 contest — the first battleground House election since the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade — could turn out to be far more consequential, giving the clearest indication yet as to whether abortion will be the issue that decides congressional scrutiny.
Ryan, whose campaign has also focused on other recent Supreme Court rulings related to climate change and the overturned New York concealed carry law, launched its first campaign ad an hour after the court issued its abortion decision in June.
“We’ll be looking back on this week – or this 48 hours really of these decisions – as a real moment when the county woke up in terms of what’s at stake, where we could go if we don’t step in and change. not the trajectory,” he said in an interview at his campaign office in Kingston.
Molinaro has previously supported removing New York’s abortion law from the criminal code, but he opposed 2019 legislation to codify abortion protections.
On Wednesday, Ryan challenged Molinaro to a debate focused solely on the issue.
“This public debate on abortion rights would give Molinaro a chance to break his silence and correct his position – or explain to voters why the federal government should restrict women’s basic human rights,” he said. he said in a statement.
Molinaro focused on the economy as he made his case to the electorate.
“There’s no doubt voters in upstate New York are focused on the rising cost of living and crime,” he said in an interview after meeting with law enforcement. order in the hamlet of Howes Cave, a regular tourist spot known for its extensive caverns. . “People are living in the present, and right now they can’t afford to make ends meet – they’re racking up credit card bills to cover rising expenses, they’re worried about heating oil prices for home heating.”
“They’re making desperate choices, and frankly, that’s what voters are concerned about.”
In many ways it is the most competitive high-profile race in the country – in the months when the candidates generally polish their messages before November.
And it’s happening under unusual circumstances: Molinaro and Ryan are competing to complete the final months of Delgado’s term in a seat that stretches from the suburb of Poughkeepsie to Cooperstown. Then they will be on the November ballot for separate seats due to new district lines.
The race pits two rising stars who live on opposite sides of the Hudson River against each other.
Molinaro became the nation’s youngest mayor when he won an election in the Poughkeepsie suburb of Tivoli aged 19 in 1995, but lost a quixotic gubernatorial campaign to Andrew Cuomo in 2018. Still, he edged out other Republicans in his swing county and was long considered Republicans’ best chance to retake the congressional seat Delgado won in 2018.
Ryan, a graduate of nearby West Point, finished second in the seven-man primary won by Delgado that year. When Ryan ran for county executive in 2019, he won 78% of the vote for a position where the last Democratic nominee got just 57%. It was open to application for a position statewide as Cuomo’s demise began last year.
Regardless of how August goes, the two return to the campaign trail for the November contests in two newly drawn districts that contain pieces of the siege they are currently vying for. These two newly drawn seats are potentially competitive, and one candidate will run with incumbent benefits while the other will enter with a recent loser’s mark.
But more immediately, the August contest will offer a glimpse of how current party messaging might resonate in the fall. Both have many topics that are discussed in their public appearances, but the heart of their campaigns rests on the issues that are at the center of the national debate.
“The economic and financial challenge for upstate farmers, families and small businesses is going to get even tougher,” Molinaro said at an event outside a Schoharie Mobil gas station last week. “US inflation is 2 to 4 percentage points ahead of European nations. Why? Because of reckless spending and dangerous policies emanating from Washington. »
He urged his listeners to encourage their acquaintances to vote in August, even if they “initially decide that gas is a bit too expensive to get in the car and drive to the polls”.
There is no better seat in New York to determine how these belligerent messages might resonate. Ever since a little-known lawyer named Kirsten Gillibrand stunned Republican Rep. John Sweeney in a predecessor district in 2006, he was among the most contested in the state.
The right and left have since traded control. Republican Chris Gibson took the seat by 5.6 percentage points in 2012, fellow Republican John Faso took it by 8.2 points in 2016. Then Delgado won by 5.2 points and 11.6 points in 2018 and 2020 respectively. Joe Biden won the district with less than 51% of the vote two years ago.
Even as the abortion message resonates, few expect the national climate to be as good for Democrats as it was in the years when Delgado won the seat with some wiggle room. There is ample evidence that Democratic voters are nowhere near as enthusiastic as they were when Donald Trump was in the White House.
But there’s a critical factor on Ryan’s side that’s been lost in some of the national race predictions: Democratic enthusiasm has cooled less in recent years in this neighborhood than anywhere else in New York.
Consider the November 2021 local elections. These were among the worst on record for Democrats in places like Long Island. But the party performed extremely well in the middle of the Hudson Valley, increasing its majority in the Ulster County Legislative Assembly to its highest level ever. Democrats won the sheriff’s office in neighboring Columbia County for the first time in most observers’ memory.
In June, more Democrats voted in the Assembly primary for a seat centered in Kingston than in any other district in the state. And while Democratic turnout in last month’s gubernatorial primary fell across the board from 2018, six of the 10 counties with the smallest drop are in the congressional district.
In communities “really focused on driving change and progress” in recent years, Ryan said, “that flame is burning bright. … And Supreme Court decisions are fueling that flame.
Much of this continued progressive energy can be traced to a single trend in the district.
Woodstock, Hudson and Kingston have grown over the past few decades as popular destinations for Brooklyn and Manhattan residents looking to get away from crowded New York City. There was an effort ahead of Delgado’s 2018 win to encourage residents of deep blue neighborhoods to register to vote in their second homes at the purple seat.
That change went into hyperdrive two years later when the Covid-19 pandemic turned life in a crowded city into a health risk. Tens of thousands of New York residents have moved to the area since March 2020. Overall, they are Democrats.
That might not be enough to completely reshape the district’s political landscape. But it could certainly compensate for impartial Democrats walking away from the polls there.
The baseline in the district could be somewhere between Faso’s 8.2-point win in 2016 and Delgado’s average winning margin of 8.4 points – making the race about as tough as it gets .
Ryan shared an internal poll showing Molinaro ahead by 3 points. When voters are told Molinaro “opposed guaranteed abortion rights,” Ryan said he was up 12 points.
These are believable numbers. But they don’t consider where voters will land if they’re familiar with Molinaro’s stance on abortion as well as a relentless message that Democrats like Ryan aren’t doing enough to fight the inflation.
“There are enough Democrats who agree with Democrats in state and federal government right now to have a pragmatic Republican who has lived the upstate New York life,” Molinaro said. .
“I knew Pat, we’re friends – well, we were until at least a few months ago, hopefully later,” Molinaro said. “And I think right now more than ever, we just need someone who’s really going to hold Washington and Albany accountable. And Pat can’t do that, he’s not. It will be another vote for the Democratic majority in the House.