Comparing John Katko (NY-24) & Claudia Tenney (NY-22): Campaigin Positioning By Luke Perry
The 2018 midterm campaign season is underway with 10 states already conducting primary elections. Primaries help illustrate competing conceptions of what it means to be a Republican or Democrat.
While there is no primary in NY-22, comparing incumbent Representative Claudia Tenney to Representative John Katko from neighboring NY-24 illustrates two different models of Republican Congressional behavior.
Both are relatively new to Congress. Tenney is in her first term. Katko is in his second.
Both voted for The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the most significant piece of GOP legislation in the 115th Congress.
There are key differences between Tenney and Katko too, most notably, their current prospects for re-election. Katko is in solid position to retain his seat, having been elected twice by 20 points, while polling suggests Tenney is currently trailing challenger Anthony Brindisi.
97 percent of House incumbents were reelected in 2016, so Tenney’s position is unusual, particularly considering Republicans outnumber Democrats in NY-22 by 29,185. In NY-24, on the other hand, Democrats outnumber Republicans by 11,183.
Varying approaches to Donald Trump is one variable that helps explain why Katko is doing better than Tenney.
Tenney has emulated Trump in style and substance through his campaign and presidency. Trump outperformed Tenney by 8.3 points, the second highest margin among all House Republicans elected in 2016. Tenney seems to be mirroring Trump in an effort to turn out Republicans this November and push her level of support over 50 percent.
Representative Katko did not support Donald Trump in 2016, because of his vulgar comments about women, and instead voted for Nikki Haley. He has selectively distanced himself from the President’s behavior and policy decisions.
This is part of a larger effort to be a moderate Republican. Katko co-chairs the Tuesday Group, a caucus of moderate House members. This week Katko emphasized his high bipartisan rating by Political Scientists at Georgetown University in an interview with The New York Times.
The president’s party typically loses seats in his/her first midterm. Regionally, Trump’s popularity has declined in New York. Nearly 60 percent of upstate New Yorkers view the president unfavorably and think the country is headed in the wrong direction.
Of course, about 80 percent of Republicans nationally remain devoted to the president. This is over ten points below recent norms for party support of a sitting president; however, presenting a challenge for incumbent Republicans seeking reelection.
John Katko’s approach is to appeal to moderates and independents. Claudia Tenney’s approach is to rally Trump loyalists. How this shakes out may determine which Republican stays in office.
Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry) is Chair and Professor of Government at Utica College.
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