Sure, and it must be the luck of the Irish. On November 8, local congressman and former Ulster County executive Patrick Kevin Ryan eked out his second election win this year in two different congressional districts.
Ryan won the November 8 race by an even narrower margin than he had won his close race for Antonio Delgado’s former congressional seat in August against Dutchess County executive Marc Molinaro. The November contest was so tight that Ryan’s defeated opponent, Colin Schmitt, a two-term assemblymember a decade younger than the 42-year-old Ryan, took consolation in his having lost the closest congressional race in New York State this year. He called Ryan to concede late Election Night.
Ryan had won the special election against Molinaro by 2858 votes out of about 130,000 cast. The Gardiner resident prevailed over Schmitt in the general election by just 2081 votes out of about double that number of votes. In unofficial returns for the 18th New York Congressional District in the November 8 election, Ryan ended up with 131,460 to Schmitt’s 129,379.
Some called it a tossup election, one in which all outcomes were equally possible, as in the tossing of a coin.
As of November 1, 2022, the entire congressional district had 236,700 Democratic enrollees and 166,800 Republican enrollees. With a 70,000 enrollment plurality separating the two major parties, why did Democrat Pat Ryan squeak past opponent Colin Schmitt only by the newly sprouted hair on his chinny chin chin (to update the terminology of the 1966 hit by Sam the Sham)?
The newly created 18th District consists of all Orange County, all but the southernmost part of Dutchess County, and much of Ulster County from Kingston south.
Though Ryan portrayed himself as running for reelection, the newly created district in fact had no incumbent. Neither Ryan nor Schmitt had encountered serious primary opposition.
It was clear from the beginning that each candidate was likely to do the best in his own home county, accumulating as much of a plurality there as they could to offset possible deficits in the other two counties.
Looked at that way, the two candidates had different starting points. On Election Day, 118,995 voters from Orange County voters cast ballots, a far larger total than the 48,699 central and southern Ulster County voters in the district.
By pulling an almost three-to-two margin in his own heavily Democratic county, Ryan was nevertheless able to produce an 8300 plurality over Schmitt in Ulster. The unofficial vote totals in Ulster County were 28,201 for Ryan and 19,896 for Schmitt.
The larger voting population of Orange County gave Schmitt 64,435 votes to Ryan’s 54,560, a plurality just shy of 10,000.
The 93,747 Dutchess County voters – almost double the number of Ulster voters but well short of the Orange County totals – were decisive in the narrow contest. The 48,699 Ryan voters and 45,048 Schmitt voters in Dutchess County didn’t amount to much of a plurality for Ryan, but it was enough to erase the difference between the two candidates in the other counties and slightly more — making Ryan the narrow winner by less than one percent of the total district vote.
Both sides had advertised heavily, each painting their opponent as “too radical for the Hudson Valley,” too liberal in the case of Ryan and too conservative in the case of Schmitt. In the fashion of this year’s divisive politics, the name of the attacking candidate was often not even worthy of mention in the ads.
Ryan had several pluses going for him. He is a combat veteran and a graduate of in-district West Point. He was liked in Orange County’s urbanized areas. Schmitt’s Assembly district included only part of Orange County, and some more moderate Orange Republicans didn’t particularly take to his ultra-combative political style.
When Schmitt was first elected an assemblymember in November 2018, Orange County had 70,946 enrolled Democrats, 56,481 Republicans, and 75,155 voters either not enrolled in any party or enrolled in minor parties. A majority of the unenrolled-in-a-party were accustomed to supporting the dominant GOP. Most of the major political posts were in Republican hands.
Four years later, the enrollment picture had significantly changed. Largely due to the out-migration from New York City during the pandemic, the number of new Orange County enrollees had ballooned by 68,000. Democratic enrollment had increased by 23,800 and Republican enrollment by just 3600. As of this month, the Democrats had 98,857 Orange County enrollees and the Republicans 78,187.
Now with a 20,000 countywide Democratic enrollment edge, how come Pat Ryan lost Orange County to Schmitt in last week’s general election by just about 10,000 votes?
The entire New York 18th Congressional District now includes 236,700 Democratic enrollees and 166,800 Republican enrollees.
A voter lag
Armchair sociology suggests that in-migrant voters and voters unenrolled in a party tend to support incumbents – as long as the incumbents aren’t tainted in some way. That pattern is complicated by the fact that in-migrants often settle in communities of like mind as themselves.
The changeover from a Republican-leaning electorate to a predominantly Democratic one has been going on in the Hudson Valley for more than a half-century. That evolution has been occurring more slowly or more quickly in some counties than in others, and varies among municipalities within counties.
Within the three counties involved in the Ryan-Schmitt race, Ulster County has the highest proportion of Democrats to Republicans. Dutchess is next. The transition in Orange took place around the same time as it did in Dutchess, but it has proceeded a little more slowly, perhaps because its in-migrants have been more conservative than those coming to Dutchess. Orange County still has more high officials who are Republican than Democratic.
The bottom line is that if present trends continue the tossup 18th New York Congressional District will be classified in a few years by the pundits as leaning Democratic.
But of course present trends may not continue.
Ryan had not returned a phone call as of press time