Back in the day when the Ulster County Republicans controlled everything, their election night (tongue-in-cheek) battle cry was “As Denning goes, so goes the county!”
Denning was and is the second smallest town in the county in terms of population with 551 souls. Alphabetically, it was first in election returns. When Denning came in, there went the county.
It doesn’t matter whether Ulster County votes first or last in Tuesday’s seven-way Democratic congressional primary. Ulster, which went Democratic in 2016 by some 15,000 votes, represents some 30 percent of the almost 153,000 enrolled Democrats in the sprawling 11-county congressional district. With the Democrats enrolled in Columbia County and northern Dutchess, the proportion expands to almost 56 percent, according to the state board of elections. No wonder that six of seven candidates either hail from two of these three counties or have set up residency within the last 18 months or so. Erin Collier of Cooperstown is the lone outlander.
The other 44 percent will also have their say.
The flood of candidates to swing districts is not unusual. This herd seems to think it’s an open seat, but it’s not. Incumbent Republican John Faso of Kinderhook will have something to say about who takes the oath of office next January 1.
Democrats, presented with an open seat two years ago with the retirement of three-term Republican Chris Gibson, Faso’s Kinderhook neighbor, blew it. Running against left-wing drop-in Zephyr Teachout, Faso, a former assemblyman, carried the district by some 25,000 votes. Democrats in this election tend to ignore Faso’s plurality, but it’s real, it’s up there. He will be tough to beat.
Who among seven hard-charging Democrats can turn 25,000 votes around?
What has Faso done to put those votes in play? Clue: town meetings.
They all think they’re winners
Let’s go back to the numbers for a bit. A little while ago, Greene County’s Brian Flynn suggested he could take 51 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s primary. If Flynn or anybody else could achieve more than half the primary vote, Faso should immediately begin working on his concession speech. In a seven-way race, it ain’t gonna happen. My editor’s calculator says 100 split seven ways equals 14.285. Twenty percent might be enough to win.
Projecting 35,000 primary votes — about midway between the usual 15 percent turnout for primaries and a tub-thumping 25 percent — the average per candidate would be about 5,000.
My usually reliable campaign intel indicates that four of the candidates — Flynn, Pat Ryan, Dave Clegg and Antonio Delgado — are telling supporters they have absolutely, positively, identified between 6,500 and 7,000 Democrats who will vote for them. I’m sure candidates Jeff Beals, Gareth Rhodes and Collier feel they have similar commitments.
They can’t all be right.
Some of this presumed support is a result of extensive door-to-door campaigning by the candidates. Knock on a door. Give your pitch. Ask for the vote. The guy or gal says yes. Bingo! Is he or she just being polite and will he or she turn out the day of the primary?
I have interviewed literally scores of candidates over the years who were absolutely astounded they had lost. “Why, everybody said they were going to vote for me,” was a common lament.
Whether all the candidates were speaking to the same people, I was unable to ascertain. My sense, even now, is that except for family, friends and volunteers few Democrats had yet settled on a solid choice. Some have expressed resentment that “leadership” allowed this many candidates in the field, as though party bosses had control over those things these days.
Picking a winner
None of the seven Democratic candidates have been actually tested in political combat during this overly long, often tedious run-up to the primary. The several candidates’ nights I attended bordered on boring. No hits, no runs, no errors. Ryan, Flynn and Delgado dealt with web-generated drive-bys, but nobody picked on anybody else on stage. Taking a no-negative pledge is all well and good, but taking the kind of live fire Faso and his super PACs will serve up will be an entirely different deal.
This is not to say Democrats lack spunk or issues. They lack experience. All the candidates have for the most part played up the local angle. For awhile, I thought I was watching another sequel to “Roots.”
There’s really no contest for hometown candidate. Dave Clegg has lived here for half his 65 years and has been deeply involved in his communities and church. Ryan, 36, born and raised in a prominent local family, runs a close second, though he really hasn’t been around much for the last 15 years or so. Rhodes, Kingston-born, a member of the well-respected Bruderhof community and good looking, will claim some of those local votes. I don’t think his endorsement by The New York Times carries much weight, but it will look good on future resumes.
Might the homies split the Ulster vote, allowing another candidate to shoot the gap?
If voters are looking for an in-your-face, take-no-prisoners Hinchey type, Beals is just the ticket. Bare knuckles define the Woodstock teacher, but does he have the wherewithal to catch the front-runners?
Speaking of which, at 6-4 and Lincoln-thin, Delgado stands out in any crowd unless he stands sideways. Rhodes scholar and Harvard lawyer, Delgado will join the elite in Congress if the voters so decree. I asked him about that over coffee a few months ago, as in, “Don’t we have enough Harvard lawyers in Congress already?”
“Not the right kind of Harvard lawyers,” he replied with that big trademark grin.
Delgado, most of all among the recent transplants and replants, will carry the carpetbagger stigma. Recall the 2016 Faso ad of Zephyr Teachout sitting in a rowboat off Kingston Point. The vessel’s docked at Kinderhook, just waiting for the right candidate.
If there’s a wild card here, it could be Fightin’ Flynn from Greene County. Rising from an almost extinct Democratic base in his on-again, off-again home county, Flynn can troll southward to harvest primary votes, while projecting himself as the most likely candidate to cut into Faso’s upstate base in the general election. Flynn has more endorsements than Shaquille O’Neal, including a woman named Pat Ryan. Not the candidate Pat, but the woman who used to be Town of Hartwick supervisor.
If readers conclude I’ve declined to pick a winner (I have), it’s only because it’s so hard to pick among relative equals. Alas, none of us get two choices. Personally, I could use three.
For Democrats, the best outcome for this crowded primary is to have one candidate stand head and shoulders among the rest on primary night, with an overall voter turnout next Tuesday of at least 30 percent. A lower turnout will suggest that the issues they all ran on were not relevant even for enrolled Democrats.
Playing the corruption card
Starved of media attention and down almost 20 percent to Democrat Andrew Cuomo in the polls, Republican nominee Marc Molinaro is betting on the corruption card. Same can be said for Cynthia Nixon, Cuomo’s primary rival, also wallowing in the polls but as a celebrity getting more than her fair share of media.
Correcting previous columns, state and local primaries will be held Thursday, Sept. 13, in recognition of Jewish holidays and 9/11. No excuse for these kinds of mistakes, but I’ve never seen anybody elected on a Thursday. The legislature should have gone with a Tuesday.
Citing the bribery conviction of Cuomo family friend and campaign manager Joe Percoco, which already sounds like yesterday’s news, Molinaro declared in a recent post: “Look at all the corruption. Then look at Andrew Cuomo’s obscene campaign account. Do that and everything else makes sense. It’s very simple.”
Actually, not. Connecting dots between campaign contributors and the projects for which they seek government support or funding — “pay to play,” in political parlance — requires one of the dots and preferably both to admit to chicanery.
Lots of state officials have gone to jail on corruption charges, but it took the FBI, wiretaps, witnesses with immunity, federal grand juries, and probably millions of prosecution dollars. It is unlikely the feds will call a sitting two-term governor to the bar, at least not before an election.
While charges of official corruption, however unproven, may catch the public’s attention, Molinaro should look elsewhere for headlines.