NY-22 Minute: Claudia Tenney to Join 2020 Race By Luke Perry
After months of speculation, Claudia Tenney is running for Congress in 2020. Tenney is expected to formally declare her candidacy on Tuesday.
Tenney was elected in 2016 in a three way race, then defeated by Anthony Brindisi in the 2018 midterm, one of just 27 GOP House incumbents (out of 202) to lose their seats.
Tenney took a brief hiatus from the public spotlight after serving out her term, reemerging in March with a scathing critique of Rep. Brindisi on Talk of the Town (WUTQ in Utica) where she used to have weekly spots, and now has her own show, The Hard Truth.
Tenney said Brindisi had the “single-most left wing voting record” in the Assembly, which he is trying to back away from, though “there is nothing moderate about his voting record.” Tenney also asserted that Brindisi “is literally copying what I did” by “introducing my old bills” and undertaking “mostly plagiarism” in duplicating her letters to committee chairs and the president.
In July, Tenney indicated she was “leaning closer to running.” At the time, there were differing accounts of whether she or Broome County District Attorney Steve Cornwell was the preferred choice of the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee. Tenney claimed to have been recruited by the committee because “they know I am the only one who can win.”
Since losing the seat, Tenney expressed interest in working for the federal government, and was close to securing a position over the summer, but this never materialized.
Tenney becomes the immediate front runner for the GOP nomination thanks to her name recognition, fundraising ability and record as a proven winner.
There are several things worth watching moving forward.
Will other Republican candidates withdraw to support Tenney? This seems unlikely for Steve Cornwell, who presumably anticipated Tenney’s candidacy, but may be appealing to political newcomer Franklin Sager. Sager has premised his campaign on enthusiastic support for President Trump, a major theme during Tenney’s stint in Congress.
If the primary remains competitive, county committee endorsements will be intriguing. These endorsements were divided in the competitive 2016 GOP primary, then unanimous for Tenney in 2018, when she was the uncontested nominee.
Oneida County, Tenney’s home county, will be particularly contentious in the wake of Dave Gordon’s unsuccessful primary challenge to County Executive Anthony Picente. Tenney supported Gordon, who made controversial personal accusations toward Picente. Picente and Tenney have an acrimonious history.
Tenney joins the race at the beginning of a new fundraising quarter. Brindisi had $770,855 in his campaign following the last filing in July. Tenney was consistently out raised by Brindisi during the 2018 campaign. The timing of Tenney’s announcement affords a full quarter to build her financial standing.
Tenney’s campaign faced criticism over message discipline last cycle. This evening the Daily News wrote that Tenney’s 2020 campaign “is off to a bumbling start” after prematurely releasing her launch video. The spot, intended to be screened by select supporters over the weekend ahead of a formal announcement, was publicly posted on Vimeo, then taken down on Monday.
The contents were reportedly “a far cry from Tenney’s usually combative style” and refrained from attacking Democrats. Tenney won more votes in 2016 than Brindisi did in 2018, though netted 6,202 less votes during her reelection bid. Regaining this support will be crucial to Tenney’s election prospects.
Tenney joins the race with a newly launched impeachment inquiry into President Trump. Tenney has embodied the president in style and substance, describing the Trump administration as “the most successful presidency in modern history.”
Trump’s popularity has fallen in upstate New York, though district-by-district ratings are unavailable. The president’s impact atop the ticket will be a key variable in deciding the outcome of what looks to be another close race.
Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry) is Professor of Government at Utica College
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