NY-22 Minute: 3 Big Questions Ahead of First Debate By Luke Perry
Today the Rome Chamber of Commerce will host a Congressional Candidate Forum for NY-22 at The Beeches Inn and Conference Center. This is the first debate between Republican incumbent Claudia Tenney and Democratic challenger Anthony Brindisi.
Here are 3 big questions to watch for:
1) How will the two candidates interact on the same stage?
The NY-22 race has been a bruising campaign over the last 16 months. Tenney and Brindisi have known each other for years and served together in the New York State Assembly prior to Tenney being elected to Congress in 2016.
Tenney has attacked Brindisi’s family from the outset (examples here & here). The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has attacked Tenney’s motivations and integrity, depicting her as a “national embarrassment” and “special interest lackey,” who “consistently put special interests, rich donors and her party ahead of her constituents and what is best for her district.”
How this plays out in the context of questioning and a live audience will be a pivotal moment in the campaign.
2) How will the candidates strategically approach this forum?
Claudia Tenney has called for numerous debates on multiple occasions as recently as yesterday morning. This is remarkable for an incumbent, 97 percent of whom were reelected to the House in 2016. Conventional wisdom is that candidates who are trailing prefer more debates to create more opportunities to gain ground.
Tenney has two major tactical considerations: build her support among Republicans (recently polled at 66 percent) and enhance her favorability (recently polled at 42 percent). There may be tension between the two if Tenney continues to embody President Trump, who is more popular in the district than elsewhere, but still very polarizing, particularly for his political style.
Tenney will likely seek to prompt Anthony Brindisi into losing his cool and/or making mistakes, such as rhetorical or policy-position gaffes. Tenney is more experienced at campaigning and debating. Brindisi is viewed more favorably in NY-22 (recently polled +17 in favorability) and has successfully staked out a small lead as a Democratic challenger in an overwhelmingly Republican district.
3) What will be said about President Trump?
Donald Trump is a major figure in this midterm election, nationally and locally. Anthony Brindisi knows that President Trump did well in NY-22 in 2016 and has retained a small majority of support in the district.
Brindisi has been cautious not to criticize the president, except in certain cases, including The Affordable Care Act, The Tax Cut and Jobs Act, and child detention procedures for immigrants. Even so, Brindisi has typically refrained from rebuking President Trump by name.
Claudia Tenney has explicitly referred to herself as a strong supporter of the president. Her reelection approach appears focused on expanding her base by winning over more Trump supporters.
Tenney will likely seek to put Brindisi on the spot regarding his support, or lack thereof, for the president. His response will likely emphasize bi-partisanship and a willingness to work with anybody who shares the interests of the district.
Updated 6:23am, October 17, 2018
Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry) is Chair and Professor of Government at Utica College.
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