After an 18-month run, the Democratic primary circus finally left town last week. Antonio Delgado of Rhinebeck finished out front by a respectable margin. On to the general election.
As we parse the returns, some truths emerge. Others await further analysis.
It would appear the blue wave washed up along the Hudson River. Three river-hugging counties, Ulster, Dutchess and Columbia, held almost 60 percent of the congressional district’s enrolled Democrats. North and west, the tide receded.
Delgado must do well in the eastern strongholds if he is to prevail over incumbent John Faso in November. Faso romped in the western areas by some 40,000 votes two years ago.
In the primary, the blue wave trickled at altitude.
I don’t think it takes a political scientist to figure out how Delgado won this thing. He laid it out at one of the innumerable debates among the candidates. “I am the one man on this stage that has the fundraising ability and the organization to win in November,” he told the audience. Delgado’s $2.4 million war chest exceeded Pat Ryan’s by several hundred thousand dollars. Altogether, the seven candidates raised and spent almost $8 million for the primary. Amazing.
It would appear to me that Ulster, the most populous county in the eleven-county district, really is different from the rest of the district.
Rhodes runs well
Delgado polled about 1,500 more votes than runner-up Gareth Rhodes of Kerhonkson. But Delgado barely beat Woodstock’s David Clegg in Ulster County, where Rhodes placed fifth.
Maybe Rhodes should have spent more time in voter-rich Ulster rather than roaming the outback in his ’99 Winnebago. Perhaps the physically fit Clegg should have biked around the district earlier than the last month of the campaign. In the end “Clegg’s legs,” as his fellow runners and supporters termed themselves, came up lame.
The second-guessing will go on for a while.
I thought Brian Flynn of nearby Greene County something of a closer. But Flynn ran next to last both in Ulster and in the district as a whole.
I asked the wealthy businessman how it felt to blow seven or eight hundred thousand of his own money on a losing campaign. “On to the next adventure!” he said. Truly, the rich are different than we are.
Pat Ryan had to be the most disappointed when Delgado got off to an early lead on primary night. Victory seemed almost in his grasp, what with a million-dollar budget (second to Delgado), a horde of volunteers and deep local roots. I thought Ryan, a former army officer, might have played the military card a bit much, given the anti-war boomer constituency everybody was targeting.
Jeff Beals of Woodstock went down spittin’ and kickin’ even as his anti-corporation message fell flat. No surprise there.
Erin Collier of Cooperstown finished dead last in every county except her own Otsego and even there proved a disappointment. If the Democrats wanted to offer a more credible female candidate, it should have been healthcare manager Sue Sullivan of Ulster, who dropped out of the race early due to fundraising issues.
As we begin to close the books on the six also-rans, I wonder how many will rally around the winner to take down Faso in November. I predict lip service, but no real commitments. Why? If Delgado, 41, wins this election, he could be the congressman for the next 20 years, maybe more. If he loses, well, there will be the hard-to-resist opportunity to do this all over again in 2020.
Speak for yourself, John
With Delgado passing on post-primary in-depth interviews, I turned to incumbent Faso for grist. In truth, Delgado, after 18 months of 16-hour days away from his young family, deserved a breather.
Faso knows well the rigors of running in, and representing, a district with some 700,000 people. The congressman has covered the same vast dimensions of the Connecticut-sized congressional district on weekends and nights as did the primary candidates, but also had a day job in Washington. “I endeavor to get around as much as I can,” he said
Faso told me he had held just one town meeting during his first year in office, a standing-room-only session in Esopus last August. Faso said, however, that he had held almost 1,000 smaller meetings with constituents over his brief tenure. Concerned about being “shouted down” by zealous partisans, he says in that Fasonian this-and-that way of his that he’s open to “the right place in the right venue.”
The challenger, of course, is likely to push for weekly face-offs, all the better to pin down his wily opponent on key issues. That didn’t happen during the primary, what with all the candidates playing kiss-face with each other.
Faso is the tough deal. Delgado had hardly made his first victory stop election night before Faso put out press releases calling him an interloper, a “Jersey lawyer” and the like. I’m surprised that Faso stopped short of saying Delgado had parachuted into the district.
Next up: Faso’s beady-eyed numbers crunchers couldn’t help but notice that Delgado pulled just over 5 percent of district Democratic enrollment. Collectively, the candidates drew about 25 percent across the district. That’s not bad for a one-on-one primary, but let’s not overlook that in this contest seven candidates pounded on thousands of doors and spent millions on advertising. To me, the vast enthusiasm the Democrats had hoped for didn’t seem to be much in evidence.
Ocasio-Cortez triumphs, Faso endures
While on the subject of turnout and surprises, let’s revisit the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez upset of 10-term Democrat Joe Crowley in a largely Latino Queens and Bronx congressional district.
Pundits hailed the victory of the 28-year-old former bartender and progressive challenger over middle-aged, middle-roader Crowley, 56, as the wave of the future. Maybe. Maybe not.
According to the state board of elections, there were 235,745 “active Democrats” in the congressional district, about 90,000 more than in the local 19th C.D. Ocasio-Cortez pulled barely 16,000 votes (absentees are still to be counted) against 11,761 for Crowley. District turnout was just under 12 percent of enrolled Democrats, nobody’s idea of a mandate or even a trend. Crowley blew it, plain and simple.
Faso has his own problems with base politics. The ever-suspicious fringe of his party suspects that he hasn’t been all that loyal, voting against the Trump budget, for instance. But the calculating congressman has never been anybody’s idea of a radical. “I said in 2016 that I’d vote with either candidate if I thought it was the right thing to do and right for my constituents,” he said.
Faso, a policy wonk, got his start as a young lawyer writing position papers for the Assembly minority. He will certainly offer voters both sides of most important issues, and more. That didn’t happen in the one-hand-clapping primary.
Faso, to no surprise, says he will not support a “single-payer” “Medicare for all” “government-run” healthcare system. He has voted to demolish the Affordable Care Act, and Republicans haven’t been able to muster the votes to replace it.
“For one thing, I don’t think 160 million Americans are prepared to give up their employer-provided healthcare coverage for a government program,” he said. “For another, nobody’s talking about the cost.”
“Like $32 trillion over a 10-year period for a [Medicare] system that’s already financially tenuous,” said Faso, citing an Urban Institute study on Sen. Bernie Sanders’ single-payer proposal.
By “tenuous,” Faso was referring to recent reports that Social Security would provide only about 80 percent of current benefits by 2034 unless adjustments are made.
Congress has been kicking this can down the road since it acted on a federal commission study in 1984. Count Faso among the current kickers. He favors a blue-ribbon bipartisan commission to study the issue. At least until after Election Day.
In his own way, Faso is an optimist, though shying away from the soaring horizons for which the Democratic primary candidates reached. “System turnoff is exasperating for both sides,” he said in response to a question about congressional gridlock. “Unfortunately, if you follow the media you’d think Democrats and Republicans are at each others’ throats 100 percent of the time. It’s closer to 50 percent of the time.”
From Washington, that’s good news these days.
In some ways, I’ll miss the circus. It was interesting until it got boring and repetitive at the end. That’s not likely to happen in the general election.