NY-22 Minute: Why Anthony Brindisi Won By Luke Perry
Claudia Tenney’s difficult path to victory has virtually closed as Anthony Brindisi has expanded his lead during the final vote count in NY-22. This raises the question of how a Democrat in a Republican district that looks favorably toward President Trump and Republican control of Congress was victorious.
6 Reasons Why Brindisi Won
1. Liberal grassroots organizations demonstrated unprecedented enthusiasm and mobilization
This began immediately after President Trump and Representative Tenney took office. The local elections in 2017 were the first run for the Congressional race. Brindisi declared in June of that year, remarkably early, to enhance name recognition throughout the district and raise money. The traditional local Democratic Party infrastructure and Brindisi campaign were aided by this grassroots dynamic in a way the district has never seen. This was pivotal facing a 26,000 Republican registered voter advantage on Election Day.
2. Candidates mattered
Brindisi was a formidable challenger with a political base as Assemblyman in Utica in the heart of Oneida County, the most populated in the district. Tenney generated negative national attention during her tenure for various comments (examples here, here, & here) and has never been fully embraced by Republicans, particularly in the Northern portion of the district. Only 60 percent of Republicans supported her leading up to the election and Tenney’s inability to bring fellow partisans back in the fold prior to Election Day was impactful. This was not helped by the fact that Brindisi was viewed much more favorably than Tenney throughout the campaign.
3. Democrats were unified behind a moderate
Democrats were unified behind Brindisi, even though he is not particularly liberal on certain issues, such as gun policy, because they prioritized defeating Tenney over ideological purity. This enabled Brindisi to target independents and crossover Republicans, which the campaign did effectively, including securing endorsements from the Independence Party and previous GOP Congressmen, Richard Hanna and Sherry Boehlert. The campaign also focused on issues that cut across party, like dissatisfaction with Spectrum as the region’s cable provider, a creative and savvy move.
4. Brindisi had superior campaign management
Geography was a major consideration. Conventional wisdom is that successful NY-22 candidates have to be from Oneida County. This was the case with Brindisi, who was able to neutralize Tenney’s home turf advantage, narrowly winning the county, while replicating Kim Myers’ success downstate in Broome County, the second most populated county in the district. This, coupled with closing the margins in the rural counties that favor Tenney, proved to be a narrow, but viable, path to victory.
5. Trump energized and divided the GOP
Donald Trump is more popular in NY-22 than statewide and nationally, but with an approval rating at just over 50 percent approaching the midterm, is not overwhelmingly embraced. Approximately one-third of NY-22 Republicans are big supporters. One-third do not care much for Trump but support him generally because they like his policies, such as tax cuts and deregulation. The last third do not like Trump, feel out of place in the party, and demonstrated an ability in this election to support a moderate Democrat they knew and generally liked.
6. Tenney chose to rise and fall with Trump’s coattails
Tenney adopted a high-risk, high-reward strategy, closely aligning with the president in style and substance. Tenney hoped to expand her base beyond the 46 percent she won with in 2016. Trump significantly outperformed her in the district, so this made some sense, particularly without the president atop the ticket. In hindsight, casting a wider net and appealing more to independents and moderate Republicans, probably would have been better, akin to John Katko in NY-24.
This should not be overstated because Tenney’s approach nearly worked. Still, an incumbent in a Republican district would typically be up 5 to 10 points rather than trying to squeak out a narrow victory, even with the national climate what it is. A Democrat has not won here since 2006.
In February, I explained why Tenney may become a Trump appointee. It will be interesting to see if President Trump, who rallied for Tenney along with his family and staff, will reward Tenney’s loyalty by giving the outgoing Congresswomen her “dream job” (15:12 mark), U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of New York.
Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry) is Chair and Professor of Government at Utica College.
Read the NY-22 Minute for timely and comprehensive analysis of the campaign.