Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched. After trailing by 465 votes out of about 10,000 district-wide in the Election Day results for the GOP nomination to oppose first-term Democratic congressman Antonio Delgado of Rhinebeck this November, Kyle Van DeWater, an up-and-coming Dutchess County lawyer, a decorated Army veteran and a major in the Army Reserves, reversed the numbers with an overwhelming plurality in the absentee ballots against Ola Hawatmeh, a personable political novice who’s an entrepreneur, fashion designer and occasional model with humble beginnings as the daughter of Jordanian immigrants from Poughkeepsie.
Van DeWater had been supported by most GOP county organizations in the district in his bid to unseat Delgado, who two years ago upset Republican incumbent John Faso by a very narrow margin in New York State’s 19th Congressional District. Hawatmeh received 841 votes and Van DeWater 806 in Ulster County on the day of the June primary election. After the Ulster absentee ballots were counted, however, Van DeWater ended up with a total of 1856 to Hawatmeh’s 1406, according to Ulster elections officials.
The picture was similar to the results in Dutchess County, where the absentee ballots also broke heavily in Van DeWater’s favor, 1205 to 456. The pattern was reportedly repeated in the other nine counties of the district. The absentee ballots showed a distinctly different preference pattern than those cast on Election Day.
After last week’s New York primary, a veteran Washington Post political reporter noted a political first. It was quite possible that none of the 18 downstate New York congressional districts (there are 27 statewide) would be represented in Congress by a straight white male, he said.
By that standard. the GOP has chosen a candidate who breaks the new downstate mold.
After centuries of governance almost exclusively by one kind of American, an urban America had emerged where minorities are the clear and growing majority, and where voters have chosen to be represented by a veritable rainbow of diverse backgrounds, identities and attitudes. Other major cities are experiencing a similar tilt toward diversity as the New York metropolitan area. The 19th Congressional District is on the border between downstate and upstate.
Hawatmeh, whose website describes her as a “philanthropic fashionista,” saw herself as a voice on behalf of people who have lost jobs and lost hope and don’t have much faith in government.
The incumbency strategy
Defeating the incumbent Delgado won’t be easy for any Republican, especially in a year that Donald Trump’s popularity in the district is right now at an all-time low. Every year brings more Democratic enrollees and fewer Republican ones to the core trans-Catskills district which Maurice Hinchey represented in Congress for nine terms.
Delgado’s first-term playbook has included a concentration on constituent service. He boasts of having hosted 33 town meetings throughout the district, three each in the eleven counties of the district. He has offices in Delhi, Hudson, Kingston, Liberty and Oneonta. He’s learning from his constituents, he has told reporters, He’s focusing relentlessly “on the needs on the ground,” he has said, leaving national politics to others.
A Rhodes scholar and a graduate of Harvard Law School, Delgado describes his career in the music industry as “empowering young people through hip hop culture, as well as working as an attorney in the complex commercial space.” He was well-positioned enough in the industry to make $300,000 a year.
Delgado, his website assures his constituents, spends every day in Congress focused on creating a vibrant local economy, working with local, state, and federal partners — regardless of party — to get results for the people here. “From improving access to quality, affordable healthcare to expanding rural broadband to protecting our agricultural interests, Rep. Delgado is dedicated to working across the aisle and standing up for what residents need.”
How Delgado won in 2018
Ulster County’s huge plurality of 15,937 votes for Delgado is what propelled the Rhinebeck resident’s victory in 2018. He ended up ahead in only two other counties, Columbia (2629 votes ahead) and Dutchess (1456). John Faso’s edge in all the other counties barely failed to offset the margin Ulster gave Delgado. To oust Delgado in November 2020, Van De Water will have to do a little better than Faso did.
Delgado had two million dollars in his campaign war chest back in January, and is clearly capable of raising a lot more if and when he needs it. During the GOP primary race, however, Hawatmeh cited her own ability to raise large amounts of campaign money as one of the things that distinguished her from Van De Water.
Van De Water’s filings for the primary showed no significant financial support. National GOP strategists will now have to decide whether Ven De Water’s chances of winning the district are good enough for them to invest the large sums of money that will probably be required.