NY-22 Minute: Can Trump Carry Tenney to Victory? By Luke Perry
Nearly all election forecasting groups view NY-22 as a toss-up. Several Political Scientists in the district I have spoken with in recent weeks are inclined to think Anthony Brindisi will win. A statistical tie in the polls on the eve of Election Day, having secured the endorsement of the previous three incumbents (Sherry Boehlert, Mike Arcuri, Richard Hanna), is as good, or better, as any Democrat could hope for in a Republican dominated district. Still, there are several reasons why Claudia Tenney may win.
Incumbency advantage is strong
Political Scientists have long documented the advantages of being an incumbent, including widespread name recognition, the ability to secure federal funding on behalf of the district, and fundraising prowess as a proven winner. These advantages are connected with abnormally high reelection rates. Since World War II, 93 percent of House incumbents have been reelected. 97 percent were reelected in 2016.
Remarkably, one can make highly probable predictions about winners of Congressional elections without knowing anything about the candidates, the districts, or political parties, by simply picking the incumbent. In other words, if you had an 85 to 95 percent chance of winning a bet, you would probably like those odds. This will be the approximate reelection rate for incumbents tomorrow.
This race is certainly closer and more complicated than most, and of course, some incumbents will lose. Still, it is important to remember these losses will be the exception, not the norm. Even if Democrats win a large number of seats, the biggest gains are likely to be made with open seats where there is no incumbent.
While Representative Tenney is highly vulnerable, largely due to her low favorability, this is still her race to lose.
NY-22 is a Republican district
As of November 1, there are 26,924 more registered Republicans in NY-22 than Democrats. The GOP registered advantage fell 1,672 from April to now, which is encouraging for Democrats. Still, the current Republican advantage is on par with 2016, though lower than 2014 and much lower than 2006, the last time a Democrat took the seat (which was NY-24 at the time).
Closing the sizeable registered voter deficit has been the main structural challenge facing the Brindisi campaign. Winning crossover Republicans and independents is key. Republican endorsements and running on the Independence Party line is helpful, though it is unclear if this will be enough.
Making matters worse, a majority of constituents prefer Republican control of the House to Democratic control. We are experiencing one of the most partisan eras of modern politics. If tomorrow’s vote becomes a choice between one’s party and the people running, partisanship has the edge.
President Trump is popular in NY-22
Tenney’s strategy since 2016 is to rise (and perhaps fall) with Trump’s coattails, in contrast to other neighboring GOP incumbents, such as Representative John Katko (NY-24), who doesn’t even want the President’s endorsement.
Tenney has supported the president in every possible way, both in style and substance. She has also defended the president against suggestions of wrongdoing, professional and personal, including regarding Russia, and blaming Democrats for having “bizarre Trump derangement syndrome.”
The president, his children, and cabinet officials, have come to the district and met with Tenney supporters in recent months. NY-22 backed Trump by 16 points in 2016 after previously supporting Mitt Romney in 2012 and Barack Obama in 2008.
Presidential approval ratings tend to fall after the first 100 days. Tenney was betting that Trump remained popular in the district.
Trump has done his part, maintaining approval ratings of just over 50 percent. This is lower than two years ago, but higher than the state and country as a whole. Tenney has done her part, seeking to nationalize the race, making it about the president and who becomes the next Speaker of the House.
Whether this approach can generate sufficient enthusiasm among Trump’s local base, or whether this alienates moderate Republicans, is among the most interesting dynamics to watch for tomorrow.
Anthony Brindisi has held his own in his first Congressional campaign, against a seasoned veteran who has run in three consecutive election cycles. It would not be surprising if he won.
Claudia Tenney has clear advantages that can carry her to victory. Though Tenney campaigns as a political outsider, she is a Washington Republican insider, who is relying on her connections to the president to secure reelection.
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.