The House Races To Watch (For Now)

From the Morning Memo:

We’re less than a year or so away from the November general election. We’re about seven-plus months away from the June party primaries. And we’re six months away from the New York presidential primary and, potentially, a handful of special elections to fill vacant seats in the House of Representatives and state Senate.

That’s an eternity in political campaigning — an eon, an epoch. And yet, it seems like the campaigns never really stopped. Already, a handful of must-watch House races are forming in New York. There are rematches, swing districts and nationally focused campaigns that will be closely tracked and analyzed as Republican seek to regain their majority.

As we’ve noted repeatedly here, New York is far from a swing state, but its suburbs and rural communities are reflective of the nation at large in many ways, making it an ideal battleground for control of the House of Representatives.

Here is a look at some of the House races I’m watching. And a caveat: No, I’m not going to mention all 27 House races and analyze them. If you think there’s a race I should include, email me and tell me why I’m wrong for not including it. More >

As Stefanik’s Star Rises, Democrats See Opportunity

From the Morning Memo:

Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik’s role in the impeachment inquiry — a profile burnished as a staunch defender of President Donald Trump — is thrusting the three-term lawmaker into the national spotlight in a way she has been before.

The president on Sunday on Twitter wrote “A new Republican Star is born” as she has blasted the process in the House Intelligence Committee hearings as laid out by Democrats.

She has fundraised off the attention as has her Democratic opponent from 2018, Tedra Cobb, who is seeking the Democratic nod again for the 2020 race.

“With YOUR help we’ve just passed the $800,000 mark!” Cobb tweeted. “Will you rush a contribution right now to help us reach our $1 million goal?”

By Sunday evening, that fundraising total reached $1 million over the weekend, Cobb’s campaign said. That kind of money and attention can go a long way in a large district with relatively modest media markets.

Stefanik responded that Cobb is raising money from “Hollywood liberals calling me #TrashyStefanik. I’m just focusing on the TRUTH & FACTs in impeachment hearings.”

So, needless to say, the race for the 21st congressional district next year could be an intensely watched one, a race nationalized by whatever becomes of the impeachment drive in Congress.

Stefanik’s In Office

Stefanik was first elected in 2014, defeating a better-known Republican, Matt Doheny, in a GOP primary. She’s held the seat since then, winning by double-digit percentage points each time. She served on the staff of Rep. Paul Ryan, and was part of his debate prep team in 2012.

She had a measure of fame as the youngest woman elected to Congress in 2014, which was later eclipsed by the victory of another New Yorker, Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Democrats have been frustrated by claims made in the press that Stefanik is a moderate amid her more centrist leanings on LGBT rights and immigration. Stefanik has also acknowledged being uncomfortable with Trump’s rhetoric at times. Like many Republicans, she was not pleased with the decision to pull back troops in Syria, allowing Turkey’s incursion against Kurdish forces.

And Stefanik has pushed Republicans to find ways of electing more women to Congress, dispersing money through political action committee backing women GOP candidates.

The District.

The 21st congressional district was redrawn in the last round of redistricting to better encompass the North Country region of the state. It covers the Adirondack Park and runs north to the Canadian border.

Military issues are key, given the district is home to Fort Drum and many veterans. The state’s North Country region is beautiful, but it also has an aging population and many of the economic hardships that face upstate communities.

The district has been viewed by Democrats as winnable over the years, in part due to the election of Rep. Bill Owens, the first Democrat to win the area in a century.

But the district, which voted for President Obama in 2012, could prove to be fool’s gold for Democrats. It has a conservative, if not outright libertarian, bent and President Trump carried it in 2016 by 14 percentage points.

It’s not an easy district to campaign in or perform constituent work. It’s major population centers — Plattsburgh, Glens Falls and Watertown — are spread out over a vast area of the state that can take hours to drive to. It’s a district that’s more like the rural seats you see out west, not in the northeast.

The Campaign.

With roughly a year or so to go until the election, it’s impossible to determine what issues Stefanik will face as she seeks re-election or if her prominent support for the president will help or hurt her.

To some extent, all congressional races are nationalized at this point, and Trump to a certain degree will loom large in different ways in all of them. To the south of the NY-21 is the 22nd, where Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi has voted to back the impeachment proceeding going forward. He represents a district the president won by a similar margin.

New York’s Loss Of Clout In The House

Tenure does not matter in Congress like it once did in the days of, say, Lyndon Johnson.

But putting time in the House of Representatives still matters, and New York is losing three long-tenured lawmakers at the end of the current term: Reps. Nita Lowey, Jose Serrano and, most recently, Peter King.

Put their political affiliations aside for a moment. All three lawmakers have the kind of influence and clout that comes in Washington only by putting in the decades of service.

With Democrats in power, Lowey and Serrano have been handed powerful roles. When Republicans rule the roost, King is seen as a key lawmaker for New York.

Congress is not as tenure-bound as it once was, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has pledged to loosen the informal rules surrounding the practice. Media exposure and savvy in this day and age, which tend to gravitate toward younger, newer lawmakers, also is a new form of clout.

But tenure still counts for something, and New York is losing nearly a century of it by the end of 2020.

Meanwhile, New York is likely to lose at least one seat after the upcoming Census as the state’s population has not grown as fast as the rest of the country.

NY-2: Peter King’s Once Red District Has Shifted

In 2013, Rep. Peter King’s district was a fairly Republican-leaning district.

At the time, GOP voters outnumbered Democrats 158,273 to 156,239. But, like the rest of the New York City suburbs over this decade, there’s been a marked shift in enrollment for the district, which is composed of Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Democrats now outnumber Republicans, 177,551 voters to 164,273. Non-enrolled or “blank” voters who do not identify with a party have outpaced both Democrats and Republicans, adding nearly 20,000 voters over the last six years, reaching 128,780.

That’s not enough to deem the district solidly Democratic, but it’s a sign the district when from purplish-red to blue-ish purple.

King drew a competitive race in 2018, facing Democratic candidate Liuba Grechen Shirley, who campaigned on a progressive platform and came within 6 percentage points of unseating the senior-ranked Republican in the New York House delegation.

The seat is likely to attract even more Democrats running in 2020. Jackie Gordon, an educator and combat veteran has filed to run and District Attorney Tim Sini has been named as a potential candidate as well.

Still, the district has been something of a tossup in the presidential race. In 2016, President Trump carried the 2nd, 53 percent to 44 percent.

Peter King The Latest Republican To Retire From Congress

Fourteen-term Republican Rep. Peter King on Monday announced he will retire at the end of his term next year, making him the latest GOP lawmaker to not seek re-election.

King announced his retirement on Monday in a Facebook post. He said the decision came after consulting with his family.

“This was not an easy decision,” King wrote in the post. “But there is a season for everything and Rosemary and I decided that, especially since we are both in good health, it is time to have the flexibility to spend more time with our children and grandchildren. My daughter’s recent move to North Carolina certainly accelerated my thinking.”

King’s Long Island district had become increasingly difficult to defend and he faced a close call in 2018 against Democratic candidate Liuba Grechen Shirley.

King is the longest serving House Republican in New York, a center of power for the GOP in suburban politics. His retirement comes as 28 lawmakers in the House of Representatives plan to step down at the end of their terms, and he is the 20th Republican to announce retirement plans.

Republican enrollment over the last decade has declined in the suburbs, including Long Island, once a key GOP bastion in New York.

In New York, King is also the latest long-tenured lawmaker to retire, joining Democratic Reps. Nita Lowey and Jose Serrano.

Brindisi And Stefanik Seek State And Federal Recovery Support

A bipartisan push is underway for flood relief aid from the state and federal governments.

Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi and Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik in a joint letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged state action following last week’s storms that devastated parts of central and northern New York.

Specifically, the lawmakers want to see the state undertake a joint Preliminary Damage Assessment with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“We understand the state is currently in an assessment phase in order to get a better understanding of what will be needed to fully recover,” the congressional lawmakers wrote.

“We greatly appreciate all the time and energy you and your staff have put into the recovery effort. However, due to the extensive damage to homes, properties, and critical infrastructure in many of our communities, we believe further steps must be taken to determine if federal assistance may be available to aid in the recovery process.”

Cuomo last week declared a state of emergency in multiple counties affected by the storms and subsequent flooding: Cayuga, Chautauqua, Dutchess, Erie, Essex, Hamilton, Herkimer, Montgomery, Oneida, Saratoga and Warren.

Seward To Take Time Off After Cancer Has Recurred

Sen. James Seward will take time off after the cancer he contracted in 2016 has recurred, his office said on Wednesday in a statement.

Seward, a Republican who represents parts of central New York and the Southern Tier, will keep his offices open and his staff will continue to provide assistance to constituents.

“My physicians have recommended a series of treatments over the next several weeks that will limit my availability and curtail my normal, active district schedule,” Seward said. “While I will be taking some time to concentrate on getting better, my offices will remain open and my capable staff will continue to assist constituents with their state-related needs.”

He added, “I look forward to completion of my treatment protocol and returning shortly to serve the good people of the 51st Senatorial District as we anticipate the start of the new legislative session.”

NY-22: Tenney Added To NRCC Program

Former Rep. Clauida Tenney has been added to the National Republican Congressional Committee’s “Young Guns” program, giving her “on the radar” status a month after she announced her plans to win back the seat she lost a year ago.

“I am grateful for the early recognition by the NRCC of the strong campaign we are putting together on the ground to win back NY-22. This is one of the most important races in the country and it is important we are unified going into Election Day next year,” Tenney said in a statement.

Tenney last year was defeated by Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi in the closely watched 22nd congressional district, which includes parts of the Mohawk Valley and Southern Tier regions of the state.

Given its Republican tilt, and the support President Trump drew in his 2016 election when he carried the district that year, the seat is once again expected to be one of the more competitive House races in New York, if not the country.

She faces George Phillips, Steve Cornwell and Franklin Sager for the Republican nomination in June.

The Young Guns program requires Republican candidates to reach certain benchmarks for support and fundraising in an election cycle.

New York Keeps Getting Bluer As Republican Enrollment Continues To Slide

There are now 18,287 fewer active enrolled Republican voters in New York in the three years since President Trump was first elected, new voter enrollment statistics released by the Board of Elections show.

Democrats in New York continued to hold a wide advantage over Republicans, who are out of power in statewide office and in the minority in the Legislature, in active voter enrollment.

The new numbers show there are now 2,630,555 active Republicans in New York, a decline from 2,648,842 GOP voters in November 2016.

Democrats have added more than a quarter million enrolled active voters during that same time period — 273,684 voters, according to the new data.

Democrats now have more than 5.9 million active voters in New York, easily eclipsing Republicans by a margin of more than two to 1.

In the rear view mirror for Republicans is the growing number of voters who have chosen to not enroll in party or “blanks.” Statistics show there are now more than 2.5 million voters who do not identify with a party, a gain of 62,639 voters over three years.

The ranks of the Conservative Party have also fallen in the last three years, declining by 4,224 active voters during the same time period.

Republicans have not won an election statewide since Gov. George Pataki’s 2002 re-election to a third term. The state Senate in 2018 returned to Democratic control for the first time in a decade.

Nick Langworthy, who was formally elected Republican state chairman in July, has vowed to make enrollment a key priority for the party.

How The Latest Impeachment Turn Affect NY House Races

The politics of impeachment for the state’s House battleground races clarified themselves on Thursday as lawmakers running for re-election next year in swing seats voted on a resolution to move forward with an impeachment inquiry.

The mostly party-line resolution in large part is meant to open up to the public what has so far been a process largely conducted behind closed doors between witnesses and House impeachment investigators discussing the efforts of President Donald Trump’s administration and Rudy Giuliani to have Ukrainian officials investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

The vote is the first public indication, therefore, of where lawmakers stand on the impeachment question, which could have wide-reaching ramifications for the contours of the 2020 congressional campaign in New York.

Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi, elected last year to a central New York House district that Trump carried by 15 percentage points in 2016, backed the resolution after remaining one of the half dozen hold outs in the majority conference on the issue.

Brindisi cast the decision to vote in favor of it as the result of a failure of bipartisanship and the need for public testimony.

“The bottom-line here is that the already-in-process investigation is moving along and delivering more questions than answers on both sides of the aisle. Since the investigation began, Democrats and Republicans in charge have failed to effectively come together in a constructive way that delivers what the public deserves: straight facts,” he said in a statement.

“My constituents want to judge things for themselves, and I support them. They want more information and public testimony. The only way to ensure this actually happens is to take the investigation into the public arena and shine a much-needed bright light. Doing so will allow both parties to finally call witnesses, the White House to rightfully be involved, and others to publicly respond to testimony heard in the wide open. Fair and open hearings will finally let Americans judge for themselves and –right now—I could not agree more. I want to judge for myself. We all do.”

Republicans called it a straight-up vote in favor of extending the impeachment inquiry.

“It may be Halloween, but it’s clear Anthony Brindisi has been tricking voters on his impeachment plans for nearly two years,” said New York Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy, who added the Democrats from districts the president carried “duped” their constituents.

Still, the impeachment question could cut the other way for Republicans, depending on the outcome of the public portion of the investigation, which GOP lawmakers have strongly pushed for in recent weeks.

Republican Rep. John Katko, who represents a Syracuse-area House district that has been in play virtual every even-numbered year for the last decade, voted against the resolution.

Democrat Dana Balter, who is challenging him for the second time, said Katko’s position should matter.

“Over the past month, it has become increasingly clear to the American people that the President of the United States abused his power by withholding military aid to Ukraine in order to pressure a foreign government to interfere in our elections,” Balter said.

“John Katko made clear with his vote today that he’s not interested in knowing the truth about President Trump’s egregious abuses of power. Nor is he interested in upholding his own oath to protect and defend the Constitution despite the fact that the very foundation of our democracy is at stake. In a stunning betrayal of the people he’s supposed to represent, Congressman Kakto chooses, yet again, to put partisanship ahead of the national security.”

Still, it’s almost impossible to determine what will motivate voters next year in what will likely be red-hot election season. Issues that congressional members face a full 12 months before Election Day have a tendency to either melt away or morph into something entirely different.