NY-22 Minute: Politico "Must Watch" Designation for Brindisi Illuminates Possibilities and Pitfalls By Luke Perry
Politico began the year labeling Anthony Brindisi a “must watch candidate” in 2018. Authors Kevin Robillard, Elena Schneider, and Daniel Strauss contend that ten “hopefuls will provide clues on how a Trump referendum election is shaping up.” Brindisi described the designation as a “nice surprise,” tweeting “momentum is building to take back NY-22.”
Beyond the national splash, some ambivalence is found within the accolade. Brindisi is described as “an old-style Democratic challenger” for being “a moderate who occasionally criticizes party leaders like Gov. Andrew Cuomo and has received an ‘A’ rating from the National Rifle Association.”
NY-22 Democrats appear willing to sacrifice ideological purity (ex. gun policy) for a competitive candidate with political experience, name recognition, and fundraising capabilities, particularly someone who can challenge Representative Tenney on her home turf. The road to victory goes through Oneida County, where both Tenney and Brindisi reside.
The second part of the article contends that: “Brindisi could be a test case for how Democratic activists, electrified by Trump, react to a centrist Democrat running in a moderate district. So far, Brindisi hasn’t attracted a primary challenger.”
Activists have supported his candidacy from day one. Patrick Madden, the first Democratic candidate, withdrew and backed Brindisi after he declared. Heath Phillips challenged Brindisi before stepping aside because of “unexpected family issues.”
A more liberal Democrat would have little chance of winning, given the registered voter advatange for the GOP. The nomination process seems more a reflection of that than the national identity struggle within the Democratic Party.
The final part of the article contends that “Brindisi may have found a key issue for 2018, blasting Tenney for supporting the GOP tax bill,” given the law “doesn’t poll well in New York, a high-tax state that could be hit hard by deduction losses.” Brindisi has been very critical of Tenney’s vote. Opinions vary on how damaging this will be for her.
All agree that reducing SALT is not in New York’s immediate interest, but the more Governor Cuomo attacks Tenney, the better it is for her. Cuomo is not popular upstate and Tenney has sought to deflect blowback by blaming Cuomo and the state legislature (which Brindisi is part of) for New York’s tax situation.
General sentiment upstate is that New Yorkers are overregulated and overtaxed. NY-22 is predominately Republican, economically anxious, and supportive of deregulation and lower taxes, however imperfectly pursued. This runs counter to the Brindisi quote that closes the Politico piece: Tenney is “celebrating the big gift she delivered to her special interest cronies. Merry Christmas Wall Street. Bah humbug middle class.”
The message is not original as part of a larger attack strategy implemented nationwide by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Congressional campaign committees are instrumental in running campaigns for both parties. While invaluable, their biggest downside is unfamiliarity with local dynamics and tendency to nationalize local races.
In the NY-22, there are clear policy and stylistic differences between Brindisi and Tenney. Voters are not going to change their policy views, but appear less inclined to support Trump after two years on the job. Tenney’s populist brawler persona, reminiscent of the president, will be tested. Brindisi’s current favorability edge could easily be lost if he alienates moderate Republicans, who do not view tax cuts as gifts to “special interest cronies.”
The challenge for Brindisi is being firm and effective without name calling or using liberal speak that doesn't play well locally beyond his base. Brindisi’s experience speaks to his ability to do the former, while the outsized role of Congressional campaign committees illuminate the dangers of the latter.
“I think that we are going to have policy disagreements,” Brindisi explained as his candidacy began, “but I hope that she (Claudia Tenney) keeps the political sniping to a minimum because name-calling never created a single job in this district and doesn't help the middle class."
Brindisi's ability to remain true to this vision will be tested as the House seeks to address many legislative challenges, including building agreement on funding the government, immigration, healthcare and social policy.
Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry) is Chair and Professor of Government at Utica College.
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