Correction: This story was corrected on Nov. 2. A previous version incorrectly identified End Citizens United as a Super-PAC. The organization is a PAC (Political Action Committee).
19th CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT — The storylines in the 19th Congressional district race between Republican John Faso and Democrat Zephyr Teachout are nearly endless. The race has national implications with a ton of outside money being spent on both candidates, and according to polls NY-19 is among the closest in the state this election cycle.
“The cliche of every vote counts could materialize in this race,” said pollster Steven Greenberg with the Siena Research Institute.
The group put out a poll in late September showing Faso with just a one-point lead over his rival and is set to release another poll on the NY-19 race at the end of this week.
On Tuesday night, WNYT NewsChannel 13 released a poll it commissioned in partnership with Survey USA that showed Teachout leads Faso by three points. According to the news station, Teachout leads Faso 45-42, with 13 percent of voters saying they don't yet know who they'll vote for in the race.
As of Nov. 1, the race has attracted about $8 million in outside spending, according to an analysis from the Center for Responsive Politics. Nearly all of the money has been spent on ads or direct mail supporting or opposing a particular candidate.
According to federal election filings, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has spent $1.3 million opposing Faso this campaign cycle, while the National Republican Campaign Committee has spent roughly the same amount opposing Teachout.
Family: Wife, Mary Frances, two children
Job: Lawyer, politician
Endorsements: Chris Gibson, Republican, Conservative, Independence parties
Faso has also benefited from the Republican-leaning Congressional Leadership Fund, to the tune of $3 million in ads, opposing Teachout. The organization is what's known as a Super-PAC, which by law can accept unlimited donations but cannot contribute to or coordinate with a candidate.
Teachout has benefited from the Democrat-aligned End Citizens United PAC, which spent $420,000 opposing Faso. PACs, or political action committees, have contribution limits and are able to donate directly to candidates they favor.
Other Super-PACs that have thrown money at this race include the NY Jobs Council, which spent $93,000 opposing Faso, and National Horizon, which spent $150,000 opposing Teachout.
All told, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, Faso has benefited from $5.5 million in outside spending while Teachout has benefited from $2.3 million in outside spending.
All of this is in addition to the spending by the campaigns themselves. As of Oct. 19, federal election filings show Teachout has raised nearly $3.9 million for her campaign, of which she has spent $2.4 million. The filings show Faso has raised $2.6 million and has spent $2.3 million.
“You can’t turn on TV in the Albany media market for three minutes without seeing an ad supporting or opposing either candidate,” said Greenberg.
The amount of money this race is attracting is in line with a national effort by Democrats to take over the House and a concentrated effort by Republicans to retain their majority. Greenberg said while the Democrats’ chances of attaining their goal are slim, it won’t stop them from continuing to pour money into this race.
“If the Democrats have any hope of taking back the House they have to pick up seats in New York, and there’s no question the New York 19th would be key to that effort, so that’s why I think you’re seeing the levels of spending by these Super-PACs and outside spending groups,” said Greenberg.
“Clearly both parties out of D.C., out of the speaker’s office and out of the minority leader’s office in the House are taking this race very seriously,” he added.
Home: Dutchess County
Family: Husband, Nick Juliusburger
Job: Lawyer, law professor
Party: Democratic, Working Families
Endorsements: Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand, NY Times, Poughkeepsie Journal
Teachout is a Fordham University law professor and activist. She tried to unseat Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the 2014 Democratic gubernatorial primary, where she garnered 33 percent of the vote to Cuomo's 63 percent. Cuomo retained the governorship, but Teachout's strong challenge made her well-known in the state.
Teachout campaigns heavily on campaign finance reform, abolishing Common Core, protecting the environment and upstate job growth. She criticizes Faso for working as a lobbyist and for the benefits he reaps from Super-PACs and other outside organizations. Faso says he can’t control what outside groups spend and that he never worked as a lobbyist in the fracking industry, Teachout’s strongest and most-used criticism.
Faso is politically experienced and has lived in the district for 33 years, raising his family in Kinderhook. He served as a Republican member of the state Assembly's 102nd District from 1987 to 2002, the last four years of which were spent as Assembly minority leader. He launched an unsuccessful bid for state comptroller in 2002 and ran for governor in 2006, but was defeated by Eliot Spitzer. He became a partner in the national law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips LLP after leaving the Assembly.
Faso campaigns strongly on reining in federal regulation of small business, particularly banks, gun rights, supporting veterans and seniors, and is also strong on creating jobs in upstate New York. He calls Teachout a carpetbagger who moved into the district from Brooklyn last March, and paints her as a New York City elitist who is out of touch with the needs of district residents. Teachout says she grew up in a rural area in Vermont that is much like the 19th Congressional district.
Both are vying to succeed U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, a retired Army colonel, who is leaving politics at the end of this term to teach leadership at Williams College in Massachusetts.
The rivals do agree on several issues: both have said they will only serve five terms in Congress, and that state and federal regulators are both to blame for not stepping in sooner when PFOA contaminants were found in the drinking water in the Rensselaer County village of Hoosick Falls.
They both agreed as well that the tax burden on property owners and small businesses is too high in New York and that heroin is a scourge in the 19th District that must be eradicated.
NY-19 encompasses Columbia, Delaware, Greene, Otsego, Schoharie, Sullivan and Ulster counties, and parts of Broome, Dutchess, Montgomery, and Rensselaer counties. Democrats have a slight enrollment edge of about 2,300 people in the district.
Greenberg said the battle at the top of the ticket between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump is sure to have an impact on races like NY-19, but divining what that impact will be is a fool’s game.
“Certainly the rough and tumble of the presidential race is likely to have an effect on turnout,” said Greenberg, who imagines two scenarios: Republicans who absolutely cannot vote for Clinton but aren’t all that thrilled about Trump, and Democrats who can’t stomach Trump but are lukewarm on Clinton.
“So they stay home, and that’s a vote that otherwise would have went to [Faso or Teachout],” said Greenberg. “It’s really impossible to know as an outsider ... what the outcome will be.”
A week before the election in a race this close, Greenberg said both camps should be laser-focused on eking every last vote for their candidate - knocking on doors, calling voters in the district and getting to as many events as humanly possible.
Greenberg said the newest Siena Research Poll on the NY-19 will be released Thursday or Friday of this week. Even so, he added, the outcome of this particular race is anyone’s guess.
“I haven’t seen anything in the last month to indicate this race is anything short of a toss-up,” he said.
Reach Gazette reporter Dan Fitzsimmons at 852-9605, [email protected] or @DanFitzsimmons on Twitter.