Flipping the House

Antonio Delgado (photo by Phyllis McCabe)

According to the New York State Board of Elections, Democratic candidate Antonio Delgado of Rhinebeck unseated one-term Republican congressman John Faso of Kinderhook in the November 6 election by exactly 15,000 votes. The absentee ballots and affidavits have been tallied, and the official count is in for the Nineteenth New York Congressional District. Delgado got 147,873 votes to Faso’s 132,873.

The result represented a dramatic turnaround from the presidential election year two years ago, when Faso tallied 166,171 votes in the same congressional district against Democratic opponent Zephyr Teachout’s 141,224 votes. Delgado managed to flip a formidable 25,000-vote Republican margin in 2016 into a comfortable Democratic victory in 2018. 

In this election year, both political sides, blue wave and red tide, benefited from what The New York Times described as “a wave of [Donald] Trump-inspired energy.” But not equally. The beneficiary of a demographically changing district, an aggressive Democratic enrollment drive and considerable voter unrest, Delgado doubled up on Teachout’s 2016 margin of 9300 to assemble his 19,000-vote Ulster County majority and his 15,000 district margin. 


In 2016, Ulster had been the only county of the eleven in the sprawling congressional district that the Democrats won. That wasn’t true in 2018. This time around Delgado had 4600 more votes that Faso in Columbia County, 2700 more in the portion of Dutchess County in the congressional district, and even squeaked by in distant Otsego County by 100 votes. 

Just as significantly, Delgado managed to whittle away at Faso majorities in parts of the district where the single-term congressman benefited from a substantial GOP enrollment edge. 

Remember the campaign?

“Is a guy who makes a rap album the kind of guy who reflects our lifestyle and values?” the now-infamous quotation in The New York Times from New Paltz political scientist and Faso friend Gerald Benjamin asked. “People like us, people in rural New York, we are not people who respond to this part of American culture.” Benjamin later apologized for what is hard to explain as other than a step into racist dog-whistle politics.

If this style of campaigning was designed to gin up the rural faithful of the congressional district, the election results suggest it failed. Though perhaps higher than in most midterm years, GOP turnout was insufficient. The relatively weak midterm turnout of the target population suggests that if anything the gambit backfired. Turnout in the district’s rural counties was in percentage terms for the most part higher among Democrats than Republicans.   

You wanted greater citizen engagement in the political process? You got it. 

Nationally, the 2018 surge was reminiscent of the1966 midterms, in which American voters rejected what they saw as the dangerously liberal policies of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. But this time it was not the Democrats who bore the brunt of voter discontent. 

Locally, the new Ulster County election data provided proof of plenty of engagement in last month’s midterm voting. New records for non-presidential-year voter turnout were set. 

From Faso’s perspective, the official Ulster County count released last week added insult to injury. Delgado’s margin over Faso in Ulster County swelled from 16,000 to just over 19,000 with the inclusion of absentee and affidavit ballots. Delgado receiving 4953 of those votes counted after Election Night to Faso’s 1838. 

By contrast, Democratic candidate Teachout had taken the same county in the presidential year 2016 — the only county of the eleven in the sprawling district that she won — by about 9300 votes. After two years of the Donald Trump presidency, Delgado was able to more than double Teachout’s spread over Faso.

Previous to this year, there had been four Ulster County midterms in the 21st century (2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014). Historically, a lot of enrollees who vote in presidential years don’t turn out for midterms. Until this year, the highest percentage of Ulster County midterm votes as a proportion of votes in the preceding presidential year was 74.3 percent in 2002, the lowest 67.1 percent in 2014.

This year’s Ulster County percentage was 92.5 percent. Considerably more than nine of every ten of the number of voters in Ulster County in the 2016 election also turned out this year. 

In no municipality in Ulster County did the 2018-compared–to-2016 turnout percentage fall below 82.2 percent. It was highest in overachieving Woodstock, the only Ulster County jurisdiction where turnout was higher in 2018 than it had been in 2016.

There was a significant difference in turnout among the municipalities, however. In only six was the 2018 turnout less than 90 percent of the 2016 turnout. From lowest to highest, they were Hardenburgh, Marlboro, Shawangunk, Plattekill, Lloyd and Town of Ulster — mostly Republican towns in the south of the county. From highest to lowest, seven jurisdictions reported 2018 turnouts higher than 95 percent of 2016: Woodstock, Marbletown, Rochester, Olive, Hurley, Shandaken and Rosendale — most but not all Democratic towns in the north of the county.

Though these municipal findings are not definitive, they lean in the same direction as the county data already discussed. The Ulster County Democrats were consistently more engaged in the 2018 election than were the local Republicans. They were able to give congressional candidate Antonio Delgado an insuperable lead in a consequential election.

There is one comment

  1. JamaicaonHudson

    While I agree that Democrats were more motivated to come to the polls than in 2016, I disagree that they were the sole deciders of Delgado’s win. The fact is that the margin of victory was aided by Republicans voting on the Democratic line. Quite simply, not everyone who voted Row A was a member of that party…

    Delgado, a political newcomer, was able to win by such a large margin due, in part, to bipartisan support. He didn’t shun Republicans, liberal Democrats, or Independents–and most importantly reached out to all voters. He wasn’t a centrist, but a consensus builder. In addition, despite the attack ads, he focused on the issues–and spoke to the district (regardless of political leanings). In the age of political celebrity, where Trump and Ocasio-Cortez reign supreme, that wasn’t a particularly revolutionary strategy; however, for a non-aligned and anti-celebrity (purple) district, it struck the right note. It’s what motivated both the politically-engaged and those, like myself, who are disillusioned to vote in this cycle.

    No small feat, considering…

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