NY-19: Scenes from primary night

Jeff Beals gives an interview with Spectrum News at The Station Bar & Curio in Woodstock, where his supporters were gathered to watch the returns. Usually campaigns set up an overhead projector linked to a laptop displaying the relevant Board of Elections website, manned by a young staffer hitting “refresh” every 30 seconds, but at the Station Beals supporters held their own private vigils over their smartphones. Beals was used to speaking with the media, having received the most attention of the seven candidates in Matt Taibbi’s Rolling Stone series following the race, and he was the subject of an episode of This American Life that aired over the weekend. In both, Beals did something few politicians do, something that reporters find irresistible: He talked candidly about the conversations that happen behind the scenes in politics, between party officials, donors and candidates. Supporters were hoping the portrait that emerged — of a scrappy, idealistic schoolteacher struggling against the moneyed interests in the party that block progressive policies — would help offset the massive disadvantage his campaign had in paid media, and help propel Beals to victory. 

 

While the watch party took place up the street, Beals and a core group of staffers (and Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone, seated in a baseball cap) took in the results at headquarters just up the street. As the results came in and it became clear this wasn’t his night, Beals was resigned, though in good spirits, commenting on the surreal feeling of seeing that thousands of persons across the state had voted for him. He joked about printing up stickers with the word “Accept” and placing them over the word “Fight” on his lawn signs reading “Fight Corporate Power.”As the group made their way back to the Station, Taibbi and Beals commiserated over the upshot of the night: in the end, money talked.

The campaign tallied the “expected” vs. “actual” results as the numbers came in, county-by-county. The expected results figure came from voters who’d told the campaign they planned to vote for Beals. Above, if you look closely you can see the Dutchess number was about half what was expected. ​Overall the campaign missed the mark by about 2,000 votes. Staffers felt they were losing votes to Gareth Rhodes, a candidate with several similar positions but with a more conservative feel. (“We’re losing to a guy named Gareth,” said one, incredulously.)  They talked of which campaign they’d work for next as they sipped tequila.

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​It’s always darkest before the dawn, Beals told supporters, but maybe things still need to get a bit darker. For the most part his speech was a traditional example of the form, talking about how the energy put into the campaign was not, as it might seem at this moment, for naught, but part of a growing movement that will continue to build momentum, and eventually reach its goals. Beals ran on a platform of Medicare for All (a single-payer health care system in which all health care would be taxpayer-funded with no cost at the point of service), a federal jobs guarantee, raising social security benefits and forgiving student loan debt; in other words, the Bernie Sanders platform. The winner in this primary, Antonio Delgado, holds more traditional Democratic positions. But elsewhere on Tuesday night, the win of a 28-year-old socialist in Queens gave the Beals crowd reason to believe; perhaps they were in the wrong place, but they were right about the time.

​The mood at Gareth Rhodes’ campaign watch party at The Beverly in Kingston was disappointed, naturally, but not despondent. Maybe it was due to the youth of the candidate and his staff; they finished a strong second and left it all on the field. There was a sense that this would not be his last effort. It could also be due to the nature of the campaign. Most candidates exaggerate the importance and consequences of an election; every election is “the most important of our lives.” Rhodes would never say this wasn’t an important election, but he stressed local issues that don’t fall under the typical Republican/Democratic dichotomy, like lack of volunteers for fire departments and EMT services, fixing roads damaged by snow plows and the need for rural maternity wards; important issues all, but not the sort of thing another Democrat or a Republican would have a problem with. It’s certainly easier to accept a loss if you didn’t spend the last year saying your opponent will end America as we know it. (Rhodes never attacked his Democratic opponents and his worst barb at Faso took aim at the incumbent’s dearth of public appearances.) 

It’s nice to be on a winning campaign, isn’t it? asked one young staffer to another at the Delgado campaign’s party at Rough Draft in Kingston. Well into Wednesday morning, Delgado was still ebulliently bouncing from person to person, embracing them and flashing his smile. He looked like a man with the energy for what comes next. 

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