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Political newcomers fill ballots for Tuesday's primary

Political newcomers fill ballots for Tuesday's primary

Democrats energized, large fields in each primary
Political newcomers fill ballots for Tuesday's primary
Photographer: Shutterstock


Democratic voters in two regional congressional districts have a lot of choices in Tuesday's primary.

With Democrats nationally hoping to regain the U.S. House of Representatives, a dozen Democrats are hoping to unseat incumbent Republicans. Five want to take on U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, while seven are running to for the party's nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. John Faso

Both Faso's 19th and Stefanik's 21st districts could be swing districts that receive national attention in the fall, having been carried by Democrat Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012 and then Republican Donald Trump in 2016.

One analyst said the size of the fields shows how hopeful Democrats are.

"I think national money will flow to these two seats," said Skidmore College political science professor Robert Turner. "Faso, in particular, has to be defeated if the Democrats are to take the House -- and Stefanik, too, could go, if it's a really strong Democratic year. If it's a wave year, and the wave goes high enough, a lot of Republicans who've been thought of as safe could be swept aside."

For conventional politicians, going to Congress can be a career capstone. But with one exception, none of the Democrats on Tuesday's ballots has been a mayor, county legislator, state assemblyman -- or held any of the other elected offices that often serve as a stepping stone.

Of the seven seeking to challenge Faso, of Kinderhook, none has held elected office before.

Turner said the weakness of local-level Democratic parties is probably one reason why, since Republican dominance has made it hard for Democrats to win local offices in rural areas, including most of Stefanik's and Faso's districts.

In the 21st Congressional District, five Democrats are running, and only one has held elected office. Fundraising leader Tedra Cobb, of Hermon, is a former St. Lawrence County legislator.

Dylan Ratigan, of Lake Placid, the former MSNBC and MSNBC business commentator who is the best-known candidate nationally, wasn't even registered to vote until this spring.

The 19th district covers a vast stretch of land that spreads from the outer New York City suburbs of the lower Hudson Valley through the Catskills to the Capital Region. It includes the dairy-dominated western end of Montgomery County, all of Schoharie County and most of Rensselaer County. The 21st district stretches from Fulton and Saratoga counties in the Capital Region north across the rural and remote Adirondacks to the Canadian border.

The 19th district has slightly more enrolled Democrats than Republicans, though it has been represented for many years by Republicans; the 21st distirct's enrollment leans Republican by 50,000 voters, though it has sent two Democrats to Washington in the past decade.

Noting that candidates haven't held elected office isn't to say they're without political experience: 21st Congressional District candidate Patrick Nelson, of Stillwater, who is the youngest candidate at age 28, worked for the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign in 2016 and also worked for Stefanik's last two Democratic challengers.

Also in the 21st district race, Katie Wilson, of Keene, a small-business owner, is the sister of Keene Town Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson Jr.; both are the children of Joe Pete Wilson Sr., a 1960 Olympics cross-country skier who later coached and was involved in managing the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics. The fifth candidate, Emily Martz, of Saranac Lake, is a former college professor and development director for the Adirondack North County Association, a regional economic development group.

All are espousing progressive views -- views with which Republicans disagree.

Fulton County Republican Chairwoman Susan McNeil said she believes the GOP's basic message of traditional values and of government not spending more than it takes in will be the more persuasive message in November. She supports Stefanik, who was elected in 2014 and re-elected in 2016 -- and at age 33 remains the youngest member of Congress.

"She's right there for our community as whole," O'Neil said. "She's representing the military at Fort Drum, the farmers, the Adirondacks, the small businesses all over the district. She's toured a lot of small businesses in the district."

In the 19th Congressional District, meanwhile, the six men and one woman running to oppose Faso are all seeking elected office for the first time, though some have government experience. They are Anthony Delgado, Gareth Rhodes, Erin Collier, Brian Flynn, Jeffrey Beals, David Clegg and Pat Ryan.

Delgado, a former Manhattan lawyer who lives in Rhinebeck, has the closest ties to the Capital Region. He grew up in Schenectady and was a standout basketball player at Bishop Gibbons High School. He also has the most campaign money, having raised more than $2 million through June 6 -- even more money than Faso had.

Rhodes, of Kerhonkson, has studied law and is a former press aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo; the New York Times last week endorsed himFlynn, of Hunter, is an entrepreneur who is president of AccuMed, a specialized medical device manufacturer.

Jeffrey Beals, of Woodstock, is a former U.S. diplomat who served in Iraq during the Iraq War and is now a teacher; David Clegg is an attorney in Kingston and former Ulster County assistant public defender; and Pat Ryan, of Gardinier is a West Point graduate and Iraq War veteran who now owns a small business.

Erin Collier, the only woman in the race, is an agricultural economist who worked in the Obama administration and has emphasized her multi-generational roots in the Cooperstown area.

Schoharie County Democratic Chairman Clifford Hay said it doesn't matter that none has held office before, and he is hopeful the party will be able to unite behind the winner once the primary is over. He hasn't endorsed anyone.

"We've got really good candidates, and they should all have their shot at it," Hay said. "They're all qualified."

The candidates in that race generally espouse progressive values on issues like expanding health care access and restoring environmental protections, establishing a strong contrast with the national Republican agenda.

Stefanik and Faso have both generally followed the lead of party leadership in Congress, though both voted against Republicans' signature tax cut bill last year over concerns about the impact on New York state.

Turner said Democrats have a chance to win both seats in the fall, especially given the larger political dynamics.

"A  fundamental law of politics says that the president's party loses seats in a mid-term election, and this is a relatively unpopular president who has policies a lot of people are opposed to," Turner said.

Turner noted that whoever wins the primaries will immediately need to turn to fundraising and ideological positioning for the Nov. 6 general election, where they will need to appeal beyond the base of committed Democrats who will turn out for the primary.

"Republicans win by making it about their issues," Turner forecast. "Democrats win by making it a referendum on Trump."

In upstate communities with primaries, polling places will be open from noon to 9 p.m.

"I think turnout is going to be very high, relatively speaking," Turner said. "There have been a lot of local debates, and they've been relatively well-attended. There are people who are Democrats and don't usually vote in primaries, but a lot of those people are relatively focused and relatively engaged -- and I think will come out for the primaries."

Reach Daily Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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