CAPITAL REGION — Republican Congressional hopeful Liz Joy is itching for more debate time with incumbent U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam.
The two are already scheduled to face off at least once this cycle on WMHT-TV on Oct. 27. However, the GOP challenger wants three debates in the race for New York’s 20th Congressional District.
“He can’t defend his poor record of over taxation, over regulation and supporting closing businesses during pandemic,” Joy said in part of a Tweet earlier this week. “Answer the people Paul. Respond!”
The tweet references a debate invite accepted by Joy after it was sent to both candidates from a Duanesburg-based group led by former Republican town Supervisor William Park. More than 100 business owners and managers petitioned for the debate.
Tonko spokesperson Sean Majors fired back at the challenger’s remarks in a statement, reiterating that the candidates are already slated to debate and claiming Joy “is trying to distract voters from her plans to criminalize abortion in all instances and her bus trip to the January 6th insurrection, which ended in the deaths of multiple police officers.”
The congressman has taken part in multiple debates in past election years against former opponents Jim Fisher and Joe Vitollo. He most recently sparred with Democratic primary opponent Rostislav Rar in a debate administered by the League of Women Voters back in August.
The League of Women Voters also sent invites for a 20th District general election debate. Joy apparently accepted the invite. Tonko’s campaign is unsure whether or not WMHT and LMV will combine debates.
“We don’t have anything finalized just yet,” said Erika Smitka, deputy director for LMV of New York state.
Joy and Tonko debated once during her first run for the 20th District seat in 2020.
In an interview following the tweet, Joy claimed that the Zoom faceoff during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic two years ago didn’t attract a wide array of voters.
On Election Night, Tonko defeated Joy by 22% — a vast lead yet closer than any other 20th district race in recent history. The freshly remapped district includes the counties of Albany, Saratoga, Schenectady and a smidge of Rensselaer — a stretch of safe zones for Tonko. However, Joy believes she can galvanize enough voters to her campaign on matters such as border security and inflation.
“[It] doesn’t matter where you live, every mother and father wants their child to be secure and wants their child to have an economy,” Joy said. “That has drawn a universal language. That appeals to everybody.”
Critics of Joy have taken to social media to point to her far-right views on the legitimacy of the 2020 election, abortion and COVID-19 regulations as a cause for concern. Joy’s supporters, on the other hand, have called Tonko a career politician, anti-business and a socialist radical.
In a typical midterm cycle, the opposing party historically takes the House of Representatives. However, this year is riddled with uncertainty following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision which overturned Roe v. Wade as well as threats to democratic norms.
What was originally anticipated to be Republican Marc Molinaro’s Congressional seat to win in the Hudson Valley and Schoharie County during the summer, Democratic opponent Pat Ryan ultimately prevailed. The 19th District seat opened up for a special election after Antonio Delgado was abruptly tapped to replace disgraced Lieutenant Gov. Brian Benjamin.
Ryan and Molinaro went toe-to-toe in a virtual debate ahead of the election.
In the neighboring 21st District, Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik has yet to formalize a debate with Democratic challenger Matt Castelli. According to a press release from Castelli earlier this week, four media outlets have offered to host a debate.
Like Tonko, Stefanik’s new district, which includes parts of Schoharie and Montgomery counties, still leans in comfortable incumbent territory.
Joy’s top contributor is a Stefanik-endorsed political action committee for female GOP candidates, according to OpenSecrets. Elevate PAC has raised $15,000 for Joy’s upcoming bid. Other top campaign donors include Hoffman Car Wash ($12,100); Pharmapotheca ($8,700); Saratoga National Golf Club ($7,900); and 20th Congressional District Empire Paving of Schenectady ($5,800).
Tonko’s largest donors are mostly from the energy sector, including Plug Power ($11,432); National Grid ($11,400); General Electric ($10,100); J Street ($10,038); and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers ($10,000).
Tonko has raised $1.4 million total, outpacing Joy by roughly half.