NY-22 Minute: Trump and Tenney Loom Over 2020 Campaign By Luke Perry
The NY-22 Republican primary currently includes three candidates. Steve Cornwell, District Attorney for Broome County, has the biggest political base behind him, for now. This spring Claudia Tenney appeared poised to run again and then stated in July that she was “leaning closer to running.”
If Tenney runs, she would be the favorite to secure the nomination, though if/when Tenney receives National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC) support, and fallout from a bitterly contested Oneida County Executive GOP primary, are worth watching.
One question facing Tenney is whether she will seek to replicate her unsuccessful 2018 reelection strategy or adopt a different approach, particularly in regards to President Trump.
Tenney has long aligned herself closely with Trump, who helped elect her to Congress in 2016, and whose first midterm, helped to usher in her defeat. Early indications from Tenney’s Twitter feed and radio show suggest little has changed in regards to her messaging.
President Trump’s 16 point victory in NY-22, including every single county, but was not sufficient to reelect Tenney two years later, even with the President and his family visiting the district. Tenney won more votes in 2016 (129,444) than Brindisi did in 2018 (127,715), though netted 6,202 less votes in her reelection bid.
Shifting public opinion is partly why. Trump’s approval rating has fallen nationally and statewide during his tenure, including 29 points in New York during his first year alone.
Upstate is certainly more supportive of the president, though his popularity has fallen here too. As of last month, just 42 percent of upstate New Yorkers viewed President Trump favorably compared to 55 percent who viewed him unfavorably.
Trump has fared better in NY-22. Prior to the midterm, Trump’s approval (53 percent) was ten points higher than his disapproval (43 percent).
At the same time, 1 in 4 likely Republican voters preferred Brindisi in 2018. Brindisi also won more votes from Democrats (116,001) than Tenney did from Republicans (110,125) despite NY-22 being a predominately Republican district.
Even considering New York’s multiple ballot lines, Tenney prevailed just 13,117 votes to 11,714. Brindisi’s 5,673 votes from the Independence Party crucially enabled him to keep things close in the face of Tenney’s 12,061 votes from the Conservative Party.
Brindisi also benefited overall from consistently being viewed more favorably than unfavorably, in contrast to Tenney who was consistently underwater (42% favorable/47% unfavorable).
The Washington Post recently rated NY-22 as the fourth most likely seat to flip in 2020 believing Democratic pickups in 2018, particularly in predominately GOP districts, leave incumbents, like Brindisi, vulnerable this cycle.
Tenney benefits from waiting to declare her potential candidacy, postponing attacks from fellow GOP rivals seeking to weaken her front-runner status. The primary is scheduled for next June, setting the stage for an announcement by Tenney in the fall or early winter.
Brindisi also benefits from the current primary situation. All three Republican candidates are from Broome County, a Democratic stronghold. The last three representatives after redistricting in 2010 have hailed from Oneida County, the most populated in the district.
Brindisi defeated Tenney when she was an incumbent, a rarity in House elections, and likely relishes a rematch. Incumbency advantage, including name recognition, fundraising, and bringing federal resources to the district, give him a distinct advantage, while grassroots liberal organizers will be motivated to preserve their 2018 objective of “one term Tenney.”
Still, the presidential campaign will present a volatile, partisan dynamic, complicating Brindisi’s efforts to keep the focus local.
Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry) is Professor of Government at Utica College
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