Aug 21 – Democrat Pat Ryan didn’t mince words as he delivered his version of the stake in Tuesday’s New York state special congressional election, telling supporters that Republican attacks on abortion add to an “existential” threat to democracy in the USA.
“This is not the country I fought for when the government tells women what to do with their bodies and robs them of their rights,” Ryan, an Army veteran at a Woodstock home with a view, told dozens of Democratic supporters last week. The Catskill Mountains are about 100 miles (160 km) north of New York.
The Aug. 23 race between Ryan and Republican Marc Molinar, Dutchess County Executive, is the first competitive House race since June when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down statewide abortion rights. It could offer a crucial test of whether Democrats can weaponize the issue in the Nov. 8 midterm elections that determine control of Congress.
New York’s 19th Congressional District — which was left vacant when Democrat Antonio Delgado became the state’s governor — is one of only a handful in the country. In 2012, it was won by Democrat Barack Obama, in 2016 by Republican Donald Trump, and in 2020 by Democrat Joe Biden.
Across the country, Democratic candidates seized on the Supreme Court decision, arguing that the Republican-controlled Congress would further threaten abortion rights and other freedoms.
There are some early signs that the strategy is working, even as Republicans remain favored to wipe out Democrats’ slim majority in the House amid historic inflation and Biden’s anemic approval ratings.
In Republican-controlled Kansas, voters overwhelmingly rejected a constitutional amendment to remove abortion protections earlier this month. In two other special House elections in conservative districts — one in Nebraska and the other in Minnesota — Republicans won by far narrower margins than expected.
Both parties are watching the New York race for clues on how abortion or economic issues will mobilize voters in November. This sprawling borough includes both the liberal Hudson Valley cities of Kingston and Woodstock, which have seen an influx of New Yorkers in recent years, as well as rural areas further west.
‘THE EARTH IS MOVING’
Ryan, the Ulster County executive, focused his first campaign on abortion. He portrayed the Supreme Court’s decision as part of what he calls an increasingly far-right Republican agenda, including restrictions on voting rights, permissive gun laws, and the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters.
“This has fundamentally re-energized — certainly in this district and this community — not just Democrats, but a wide range of people,” Ryan said in an interview when asked about the abortion decision. “I think the ground is literally shifting right now.
Like many Republicans, Ryan’s opponent Molinaro downplayed abortion, focusing instead on high inflation and crime. In a recent debate, Molinaro, who opposes abortion, said he would not support federal efforts to impose a national ban, saying the decision was up to individual states.
In the interview, Molinaro dismissed Ryan’s attacks on abortion, arguing that voters care more about wallet issues.
“These are families and these are communities that work too hard and get too little in return,” he said last week before addressing Rensselaer County Republicans in Troy, near the state capital, Albany. “That’s what they mean.
The economy has been the top concern of voters over the past year, with 29% citing it as their top concern last week, according to an Ipsos poll. While that poll did not specifically ask about abortion, a /Ipsos poll in June found that 62% of respondents were more likely to vote for candidates who support abortion rights.
Ryan called the view that Democrats must choose between emphasizing individual rights or the economy a “false choice,” adding that Republicans consistently oppose Democratic bills that he says would lower costs for working families.
Both candidates embraced the national implications of their race.
“This is our opportunity to send a clear message right here in New York 19 that this is not the direction that — not only we here, but the American people — want our country to go,” Ryan told the Woodstock audience.
In Troy, Molinaro said, “On August 23rd, we begin the march to take back the House of Representatives on the way to a Republican majority.”
The winner of Tuesday’s contest will be sworn in immediately to fill out the remaining few months of Delgado’s term. But because of this year’s redistricting, both Ryan and Molinaro plan to return to the November ballot in other districts.
Ryan’s Ulster County home has been redrawn in the 18th District, where he is favored as the Democratic candidate. Molinaro decided to run in the new 19th District, even though his home in Dutchess County was drawn into the 18th District.