Suffolk County supported President Donald Trump with 51 percent of the vote in the 2016 election, but House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley is betting that Long Island residents out east will turn out for a Democrat in the 2018 congressional races.
Earlier this year, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley launched the “Better Days Fund” to support 12 Democratic congressional candidates, and committed to asking his personal supporters to donate to these challengers. Crowley, who is rumored to have designs on the House speakership if Democrats were to retake Congress, raised $900,000 at a fundraiser last week for his chosen candidates, including New Yorkers Anthony Brindisi, Max Rose and Kate Browning.
Of those, Browning stands out as the one with an especially steep uphill battle. A term-limited legislator in Suffolk County, she is challenging Rep. Lee Zeldin, a staunch supporter of Trump in a district that is considered relatively safe for the GOP. Browning faces a crowded primary, and was behind fellow Democrat Perry Gershon in fundraising in the final quarter of 2017. But Crowley’s financial support indicates that at least Browning has secured the backing of the Democratic establishment.
Brindisi, an assemblyman, is gunning for Rep. Claudia Tenney, of Central New York, who recently stirred controversy by suggested many mass shooters are Democrats, and is widely seen as vulnerable to a Democratic challenge. Rose is the presumed Democratic frontrunner in the race against Rep. Dan Donovan, whose wild card Republican primary challenge from former Rep. Michael Grimm could help put the Staten Island and southern Brooklyn-based seat in play.
Browning appears to have strong support among Suffolk County Democrats; she was loudly applauded at a February breakfast fundraiser hosted by the Suffolk County Democratic Committee. At the same event, county Legislator Rob Calarco said, to applause, that Browning is “going to do a great job in Congress.”
Keith Davies, Browning’s campaign manager, noted that Crowley and Browning are acquaintances, as Browning, an Irish immigrant, and Crowley, who is Irish-American, run in the same political circles in New York. In a statement provided for City & State, Browning said that she was grateful for Crowley’s support, and touted her background as an immigrant and former school bus driver.
"I'm excited to have the support of Congressman Crowley who agrees we need more blue-collar, working-class voices in Congress who have the know-how to deliver results for Suffolk County,” Browning said. “The way we beat Lee Zeldin is with someone who relates and delivers results for Suffolk County families." As a county legislator, she was elected on the Working Families Party line, although she has since switched her registration to Democrat.
Browning does seemingly have an disadvantage in cash on hand compared to Gershon. However, although Gershon raised over $500,000 in the final quarter of 2017, and has over $800,000 in cash on hand, he loaned $400,000 to his own campaign. Browning has over $140,000 in cash on hand, less than fellow Democrats David Pechefsky and Vivian Viloria-Fisher, but she raised more in the final quarter of 2017 than either of those candidates. Viloria-Fisher has also given a $100,000 loan to her own campaign. Other candidates include Brendon Henry and Elaine DiMasi, neither of whom have cracked $100,000 in fundraising. Zeldin currently has over $1 million in his campaign coffers.
Crowley’s fund does not list support for any candidate challenging Rep. John Faso, whose Hudson Valley seat is usually listed among the GOP’s most vulnerable in New York. But while Faso may be a more obvious target for the national Democratic machine than Zeldin, no frontrunner has emerged from the pack of Democrats looking to take Faso’s Hudson Valley seat. When asked why Crowley had helped Browning, but not yet a candidate in Faso’s district, a Crowley campaign staffer, who requested anonymity to discuss campaign strategy, said that Browning is “exactly the type of candidate we must elect in 2018 to ensure Democrats gain the majority and bring balance back to Congress.”
“Chairman Crowley is focused on electing good, progressive Democrats across the country and will be proud to support the Democratic candidate in New York's 19th Congressional District,” the staffer said.
Crowley may also think Zeldin’s district is more competitive than conventional wisdom holds. Although Suffolk County went for Trump, Democrats have often fared well there; county government is dominated by Democrats. The county executive, sheriff and district attorney are all Democrats. The county Legislature is one vote shy from a Democratic supermajority. Crowley, and Browning, may be counting on support for a Democratic county legislator extending to a victory in the primary and the general election.