NY-24 Candidates Contest Ideological Perceptions By Luke Perry
In NY-24, one of the “top ten House races to watch in 2018,” John Katko (R) and Dana Balter (D) have been fighting to position themselves to voters since the Democratic primary concluded in June.
Katko believes he is “listening to what constituents want” and will be more legislatively productive this term than ever before. "I'd venture to guess that we're not a far-left district,” Katko recently stated, but what Balter is proposing “represents a far-left district and that's not what the district is."
Balter believes Katko “doesn’t do what is right, but does what is politically expedient,” including “failing to vote against his party on substantive issues to benefit the district.” “On everything that matters,” Balter recently stated, “Katko stands with party.”
A recent poll suggested Balter was ahead by 4 points. The poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling (PPP), a self-described “progressive firm” who works with clients “every step of the way to help you confidently leverage public opinion for your cause.” PPP is generally well-rated, though the poll failed to include a margin of error (typically 3 to 7 points) and provided only limited information on sampling methodology.
Polls previously suggested Balter was a 13 point underdog in the Democratic primary. Nearly 1 in 4 Democratic primary voters decided who to vote for in the two weeks leading up to the election, explained Siena College pollster Steve Greenberg, while nearly 60 percent of Democratic voters didn’t know enough about Balter to have an opinion on her.
The recent poll is encouraging for Balter, but limited name recognition and limited campaign funding make it premature to suggest she is winning. 97 percent of House incumbents were reelected in 2016. This will surely be down this year as analysts expect a Democratic wave, particularly in the House, though that is not guaranteed.
Parties of first term presidents typically lose seats in the midterms and Democrats have done well in generic ballot polling, asking irrespective of candidates, what party likely voters prefer this midterm. 40 GOP incumbents have decided not to seek reelection, a historically sizeable number that weakens incumbency advantage for the GOP.
At the same time, there far fewer Republicans running in House districts that tilt Democratic compared to years past, while the Republicans currently hold a large majority of seats. This necessitates “a sizable pickup in an era where after gerrymandering,” explains Anthony Salvano, director of polling at CBS, “most districts are won by lopsided margins” so “there just aren't that many that swing or that can swing." Republicans have turned out for midterm elections this decade and the right has had little trouble raising money to invest in difficult campaigns.
Look for continued contestation of Katko’s ideology. As a Republican in a Democrat-majority-district, he’s running on productivity and working with both parties. Katko is more moderate than many House Republicans, but in this climate and context, a referendum on the Trump presidency would not bode well for him.
Katko didn't vote for Donald Trump in 2016, has opposed repealing The Affordable Care Act, voted against the GOP farm bill, and differed with Trump on immigration. At the same time, Katko has also widely supported most GOP positions, including The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, and deregulation, including rollbacks of financial and environmental regulations.
Balter needs to simultaneously turn out Democrats and sufficiently appeal to the district’s nearly 25,000 independents. Balter’s grassroots organizing experience will be helpful, though this won’t be an easy task. Katko will be on the Independence Party ballot line, the most significant minor party in New York, similar to past years. In 2014, he received nearly 7,000 votes on this line, and over 10,000 in 2016. This voting bloc could be crucial in a close race.
Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry) is Chair and Professor of Government at Utica College.