NY-22 Minute: In-Depth Coverage of First Candidate Forum By Luke Perry
This morning Claudia Tenney (R) and Anthony Brindisi (D) participated in the first public forum with both NY-22 candidates. Each candidate was permitted to make opening and closing statements, and answer questions posed by a moderator within one hour. Three key considerations were how the two candidates interacted amidst a long and bruising campaign, how they tactically approached this forum, and how they reacted to President Trump.
Why and How
Both candidates emphasized what inspired them to run for Congress in their opening statements. Anthony Brindisi discussed people he has visited with throughout the district and concerns about paying bills and having health insurance. “These are the people I want to fight for in Washington,” said Brindisi, who aspires “to bring people together to solve big problems.”
Claudia Tenney first ran for office “because I wanted to help the small business community.” She wants people to better understand how much small businesses contribute to communities in the district and aspires to reduce government and cut taxes to help businesses thrive.
Political attacks began with Tenney’s response to the first question, which pertained to D-FAS in Rome. Tenney was critical of Senator Schumer’s handling of related funding legislation. Brindisi contended the U.S. Senate put stronger language in the bill to protect workers.
The two candidates exchanged barbs throughout, occasionally interrupting one another during her/his allotted time. One example was when Tenney responded to criticism of her efforts to repeal The Affordable Care Act by stating the related bill did not pass. “Thank God,” Brindisi quipped.
Both repeatedly accused the other of lying, before an audience that included over 80 students from seven local high schools. At one point, for instance, Tenney accused Brindisi of producing a “word salad of lies,” during a particularly testy discussion of immigration and Social Security, and later called him an “ambulance chasing trial lawyer.”
Personal attacks and criticisms did not completely derail what was intended to be an educational, issues-based forum, but it was a persistent element.
Both candidates were comfortable and commanding in their own way. Tenney had clear talking points, but fluidly weaved between policy specifics on various issues and condemnation of Democratic leaders, the Resist movement, the news media, and various individuals from Ray Halbritter (described as the “biggest tax cheat”) to George Soros (referred to as a “socialist”).
Brindisi emphasized a collective to approach to governance, highlighting his work with Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente, Mayor Jacqueline Izzo of Rome, and Senator Joseph Griffo, all of whom are Republicans. Brindisi referred to Griffo as his “biggest partner” in the New York Legislature and referenced longtime former Congressman Sherry Boehlert (R) as a positive model for how to best represent the district today. This was done in concert with a policy focus on preserving The Affordable Care Act and critiquing The Tax Cut and Jobs Act.
While both candidates are widely known personally in the northern portion of the district, the forum was largely a contest of broad ideological values. Tenney depicted Brindisi as too liberal and a threat to conservative policy priorities regarding taxation and immigration. Brindisi depicted Tenney as too divisive and a threat to liberal policy priorities regarding expanding health insurance and protecting social programs, particularly Medicare and Social Security.
Though both candidates open and closed in personal terms- Tenney referenced living in the house across the street from where she grew up, while Brindisi referenced his political beginnings on the Utica School Board and what he’s heard in town halls –this forum was more about what each stood for and the flaws in their opponent’s views and actions.
Claudia Tenney framed her support for President Trump in terms of relationships and results. Tenney suggested her positive working relationship with the president were grounds for reelection, evident in visits to the district by him and Ivanka Trump. In speaking with reporters after the event, Tenney said with a smile that Trump listens to her, and is a good listener, though “he doesn’t always listen for long.”
Tax policy was emphasized as a key example of results and a topic that both candidates kept returning to. Tenney contended the federal tax cut was long overdue and responsible for positive developments regarding economic growth and employment. Brindisi contended the benefits of the tax law disproportionately favor the wealthy while significantly contributing to the federal debt.
In terms of job loss upstate, Brindisi prioritized ensuring a pathway from school to the local workforce for young people, increased public works programs, and encouragement of emerging industries, such as renewable energy. Tenney emphasized her belief that government should not spend money to create jobs, the private sector should, and if the economy is growing, employment will rise.
Brindisi referenced select positions held by President Trump that he agreed with while mostly refraining from criticizing him directly. This tended to focus on proposals Trump campaigned on, such as an infrastructure bill and allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, but have yet to materialize.
One clear parallel between Tenney and Trump in the forum was Tenney’s treatment of the news media. Tenney criticized the local news media as “real fake news,” gesturing at journalists in their designated space, and wished media fact-checkers “good luck.” Tenney then later offered video to media fact-checkers regarding Anthony Brindisi’s past record on gun policy.
Similarly, Tenney criticized the Observer Dispatch (OD) for its digital management of stories, alleging without evidence they removed stories from their website that portrayed Brindisi unfavorably. (I’ve served as an unpaid columnist for the OD since 2016.) Tenney then later referenced the OD’s cover story this morning as factual corroboration of a claim she was making about being out fundraised by Brindisi.
Tenney has brought President Trump’s unique media approach to the district, one that combines unprecedented conventional attacks on news outlets, coupled with attempts to make media-based appeals when politically beneficial, and an overarching desire for increased media validation.
The proceedings of today’s forum will likely have limited impact on the race moving forward. There were no major surprises and both candidates largely stayed on message. The next public event with both candidates is scheduled for November 1st in Binghamton. As Election Day nears, the potential impact of such events increases, and the event is a formal debate, which may lend itself to more interaction between the two candidates.
Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry) is Chair and Professor of Government at Utica College.
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