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New York special election could be final litmus test before November

A special election in New York on Tuesday is being viewed as the last bellwether for how voters in swing districts could behave in November — and what issues will motivate them — as Democrats seek to put abortion front and center.

The state’s 19th Congressional District opened up when former Rep. Antonio Delgado (D) was appointed lieutenant governor. Republican Marc Molinaro and Democrat Pat Ryan are facing off for the seat, and polls show a tight race.

Molinaro has been zeroing in on the economy, while Ryan looks to seize on anger surrounding the overturning of Roe v. Wade to drive their respective voters to the polls.

“This is a good barometer of the national mood right now,” said Democratic strategist Jon Reinish, who lives in the district. 

poll released last week by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) showed Molinaro leading 46 percent to 43 percent. Molinaro’s lead was within the poll’s plus or minus 4.5 percentage point margin of error. 

“This is the ultimate swing district,” Reinish said. “This is a 50-50 district.” 

While strategists agree the race could serve as a litmus test, they also acknowledge that holding the special election and primaries on the same day have made for a confusing predicament for voters.

Tuesday’s special election is for the 19th District as it exists pre-redistricting. The winner will represent the seat through January. Tuesday is also a primary day in New York to select nominees in newly drawn districts to go on to November’s general election. That includes nominees for the 19th District as it will exist post-redistricting.”

Regardless of who wins the special election on Tuesday, Molinaro will be the Republican nominee for the 19th District in November, while Ryan is also vying Tuesday in the Democratic primary for the newly drawn 18th Congressional District.

“If we think it’s confusing, imagine what the average voter thinks,” Reinish said. 

But Democrats argue that despite the confusion, enthusiasm is still in their favor. 

“It is a special election in the dog days of August, but despite that traditional enthusiasm dampening factor, people seem really engaged,” Reinish said. 

Democrats point to the issue of abortion access as a major galvanizing factor, given the pushback against the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in June. 

“The momentum Pat Ryan has built in this race demonstrates that voters in swing districts are eager to elect candidates with integrity who will fight to protect abortion rights,” said DCCC spokesperson Nebeyatt Betre.

Various nationwide polls show that a majority of Americans are against the high court’s decision and a referendum vote earlier this month in Kansas showed the issue has the potential to be galvanizing for the liberal base.

Earlier this month, voters in Kansas rejected a ballot measure that would give the state legislature the authority to ban abortion. 

But Ryan was focusing on abortion as a major issue more than a month before the Kansas vote. The Democrat rolled out his first television ad of the campaign cycle, which focused on abortion, less than an hour after the Supreme Court announced its decision to strike down protections for the procedure. 

Molinaro, meanwhile, has followed the national Republican playbook of focusing on the economy and crime. 

“Obviously the coverage is going in the way of it being a bellwether because Pat Ryan has decided to run the entire campaign on abortion,” said one Republican strategist. 

Republicans argue that as nationwide polling has suggested, the economy and crime stand to be top drivers in Tuesday’s election. 

According to data released by Pew Research earlier this month, 79 percent of registered voters said that the economy was “very important” to their vote, while abortion clocked in at 40 percent. 

“These people are still dealing with inflation and high gas prices and the fentanyl crisis that’s in the Hudson Valley and all of these things,” the GOP strategist said. “He voluntarily supported the [Inflation Reduction Act], but he’s not even in Congress and he’s out there shilling for this legislation.” 

The Inflation Reduction Act is the sweeping climate, tax reform and health care bill Democrats passed earlier this month and Tuesday’s election could also be an early test of its impact on the campaign trail.

Democrats argue that the Biden administration’s recent legislative wins, including the long-awaited legislation, could end up playing well for a candidate like Ryan. 

“I think that prescription drug price win, climate win, health care wins, I think all of that taken together positions the party itself and previously dispirited voters with more enthusiasm, more motivation, feeling better about turning out for Democrats even than they were, I would say, a couple of months ago,” Reinish said. 

Republicans argue that the Democratic emphasis on prescription drug reform and combatting climate change is a way for Democrats to avoid talking about the legislation’s own namesake. 

“I don’t think that any Democrat is even out there calling this the Inflation Reduction Act anymore,” the GOP strategist said. “Just because Democrats in D.C. are declaring a win doesn’t mean that voters back home are seeing that as a win.” 

Tags Abortion Antonio Delgado New York New York primaries New York special election Special Election
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