Why Delgado won

Antonio Delgado speaks at a pro-immigrant rally in July. (Photo by Phyllis McCabe)

Incumbent local freshman congressman John Faso received 124,000 votes in Tuesday’s election, according to unofficial state returns that didn’t include absentee or affidavit ballots. Though that was 42,000 votes fewer than the 19th Congressional District congressman had received in his successful race in the 2016 presidential year, by most standards his total was remarkably robust for a non-presidential mid-term election year.

Yet Faso lost Tuesday to Democratic contender Antonio Delgado by a solid 8000 votes. It was a national election. Donald Trump may be beloved in many parts of the country, but the Hudson Valley may not be one of them. That proposition may be tested in 2020. 

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On Tuesday, Delgado mobilized an engaged voter base that in the end swamped Faso’s efforts. Delgado’s vote total of 132,000 was only 9000 behind unsuccessful 2016 Democratic candidate Zephyr Teachout’s total. 

In her 2016 race, Teachout had more votes than Faso in only one of the sprawling congressional district’s eleven counties, Ulster, where she tallied 45,541 votes in the final official count to Faso’s 36,216. Faso’s performance in the other ten counties not only erased Teachout’s Ulster plurality but steered him to an easy 25,000-vote margin over his opponent.

2018 was different. Election-night tabulations this year showed Delgado with 43,110 votes in Ulster County to Faso’s 27,182. Delgado came out of Ulster with a colossal 16,000-vote cushion compared to Teachout’s 9000. Could the returns from the rest of the district be sufficient to cancel out that plurality? 

Not this year.

The pattern of Delgado strength and Faso weakness was repeated Tuesday throughout New York’s sprawling 19th Congressional District. Where Teachout had fallen to Faso in Columbia County by 1500 votes in 2016, Delgado took his opponent’s home county by 2600 this time around. It was not so much that Delgado was doing better than Teachout had but that Faso 2018 was performing less well than Faso 2016 — an indicator of intense Democratic engagement in this year’s election.

Similarly, Faso had won the portion of Dutchess County in the congressional district by 2600 votes in 2016. He lost it by 1500 in 2018. Once again, engagement told the story. Delgado came within 1600 of Teachout’s total while Faso 2018 was 5600 votes behind Faso 2016.

Ditto for heavily Republican Greene County, where Faso converted a 6400-vote edge in 2016 to only 3000 in 2018 due to drop in GOP support.

So it was in most of the other counties of the district. The pro-Faso vote in Rensselaer County dropped by 5000. In Delaware County it dropped by 3200. Even distant Otsego County, the terra incognita, mysterious other side of the district, proved not immune, shifting from a 3100-vote edge for Faso in 2016 to a mere 200-vote plurality in 2018. 

One could feel the excitement and involvement in the packed house for Delgado at the Senate Garage in Kingston Tuesday night: a cheering, swaying crowd of hundreds pointing their illuminated digital devices at Delgado standing in a small space underneath a huge American flag. Even making allowances for the more stoical nature of a Republican political base, it was difficult to imagine so celebratory a GOP crowd in the Hudson Valley. At least not here, not now.

Winning this particular election required adding registered voters and turning them out on election day. The political organization that performed the task for the Democrats was highly effective. Nine of ten of the newly registered Democratic voters (9600 added in the past two years) were from the counties along the Hudson River. Some 3600 Democrats were added in Ulster County, 2500 in Columbia, 2200 in Dutchess, and 500 in Greene. Registrations in the other parts of the congressional district were mostly unchanged.

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