Road to control of Congress runs through New York

October 17, 2022

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

By Joe Mahoney

ALBANY — Congressional races across New York are heating up in a titanic clash between Republicans and Democrats that will be a factor in determining which party has control of the U.S. House of Representatives come January.

Nationally, if the House seesaws to Republican control in the midterm elections, President Joe Biden’s agenda for the remaining two years of his term would be in jeopardy. The White House plans would likely be limited to those areas where there is agreement with the GOP, and Republicans would be in a position to open investigations that could be politically damaging to Democrats.

“If the Republicans win a majority in the U.S. House, there is going to be a lot of tension between the House and the President, and the House is going to start to oversee the workings of the administration more closely,” said Harvey Schantz, a State University at Plattsburgh political science professor. “So it’s going to be very antagonistic, just as it was when you think back to when Donald Trump was the Republican President with a Democratic majority in the House.”

To take the House majority, Republicans would have to end up with a net gain of five seats nationally.

New York’s significance as a national battleground in the congressional calculus has not been lost on top Democrats and Republicans.

President Joe Biden swooped into Poughkeepsie Oct. 6 in a visit that was converted into photo opportunities by Democrats running for hotly contested congressional seats in the Hudson Valley.

Five days earlier, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy flew to Long Island to promote Republican congressional candidate Nick LaLota.

No matter what happens when votes are counted Nov. 8, there will be fresh faces in New York’s Washington delegation come January.

In the redrawn 19th congressional district, one of New York’s most fiercely contested races features Republican Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess County executive, against former Washington D.C. lawyer Josh Riley, who now resides in Ithaca.

Should Molinaro take the seat, it will likely prompt Democrats to re-examine Gov. Kathy Hochul’s decision earlier this year to tap former Rep. Antonio Delgado to fill the lieutenant governor vacancy created by the corruption scandal that capsized the career of Brian Benjamin. He was Hochul’s initial appointed lieutenant governor.

One of the races that drew Biden to New York has incumbent Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-Cold Spring, facing a spirited challenge from Assemblyman Mike Lawler of Rockland County. The non-partisan Cook Political Report suggests the 17th Congressional District leans Democratic.

In an unusual turn of events, Rep. Pat Ryan, D-Ulster County, won the special election for Delgado’s former seat in August, though he is now running for the 18th District seat, due to redistricting. His opponent is Assemblyman Colin Schmitt, R-Orange County.

Republican campaign strategist Vincent Casale of Cooperstown said Biden’s visit to the Hudson Valley was intended to stoke turnout for Maloney, Riley and Ryan, since those three races are competitive. “President Biden didn’t just wake up one day and say, ‘Hey, let’s go to Poughkeepsie,'” Casale observed.

Casale said he believes the focus trained on the Hudson Valley by both Biden and McCarthy is an indicator that the seats for the 17th and 18th districts are both seen as being toss-ups on Nov. 8.

“Their visits to New York tell you a lot,” he said. “It tells you those races are going to be tight. Certainly, Republicans have an opportunity to flip those two seats.”

Another upstate race that polls suggest is too close to call will result in a newcomer being sent to Washington. Republican Brandon Williams and Francis Conole are vying to represent the 22th Congressional District in Central New York.

Further changes in the state’s delegation makeup will come from Long Island, where Reps. Kathleen Rice and Rep. Tom Suozzi opted not to seek re-election. Meanwhile, another opening came about when Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-Nassau County, became the GOP nominee for governor. If Zeldin performs well in his home territory, one of the state’s most heavily populated suburban areas, it could bode well for down-ballot Republicans on Long Island.

In a redrawn district linking the North Country with northern Otsego County and Schoharie County, Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Saratoga, has emerged as the favorite as she faces a challenge from Democrat Matt Castelli, a former National Security Council staffer.

Stefanik’s support for Trump has spawned attacks from Castelli and his supporters while Stefanik, who outperformed Trump in the earlier version of the district in 2020, has painted Castelli as a carpetbagger from Poughkeepsie. Castelli now lives in Glens Falls

One Western New York race generating interest has more to do with the fact the 23rd Congressional District features the reigning New York state Republican boss, Nick Langworthy, than it does with any competitive drama. Republicans have been a dominant force in that region, and polls suggest Langworthy is the favorite against Democrat Max Della Pia.

Across the state, the Democratic congressional candidates have been focusing on abortion rights as a key issue, while Republicans have been emphasizing inflation, taxes and other economic concerns.

In Plattsburgh, Schantz said as Congress deals with issues that are national in scope, it is typical for campaigns to appeal to voters based on the issues that could provide their candidates with the most traction.

For Republicans to gain congressional seats in New York, the party’s candidates in competitive districts will need to draw significant support from independents — voters who aren’t affiliated with a party, also known as blanks, Schantz said.

A recent Siena College poll found the top issue concerning New York voters is the economy.

Abortion placed fifth on the list of voter concerns.

Coming ahead of abortion were: “threats to democracy” (second); crime (third place) and gun control policies (fourth place).

Early voting in New York begins Oct. 29.