The National Republican Congressional Committee hasn’t given up on New York. After losing three GOP House seats in the state last year, the GOP’s congressional campaign arm thinks it can reclaim those seats from the freshmen Democrats: Reps. Max Rose, Antonio Delgado and Anthony Brindisi. The NRCC is also hopeful that a Republican can knock off Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney.
These seats are four of 55 offensive targets for the Republican party nationwide. With six initial targets announced in California and five in neighboring New Jersey, it is not the most aggressive initiative in the country, or even the region. But if Republicans can flip all four targeted seats, or at least recover the three lost in the midterms, it’ll add ballast to a party struggling to stay afloat in New York.
The outcome of the Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, while not completely exculpatory for the president – and having led to guilty pleas by his former campaign manager Paul Manafort and personal attorney Michael Cohen – is considered a political chip by Republicans, and they plan to run on it in the midterms. The NRCC is preparing to roll out an ad campaign chiding Democrats who, noting Russia’s intervention in the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf and the president’s indulgent policies towards Russia, had suggested that Trump colluded with the hostile foreign power. “One of the things that we’re doing, in light of the Mueller report, is launching a digital advertising campaign targeting each of those members, telling them to stop the partisan games, and get back to work on issues that people care about," said Jessica Proud, a spokeswoman for the New York Republican Party.
In most targeted regions of New York, Democrats like Rose, Brindisi and Delgado – each representing swing districts carried by Trump in 2016 – curbed their criticism of the president leading up to the general election. For Maloney, however, challenging the president legally became a pillar of his platform in the race for the Democratic nomination for attorney general, a campaign he ran last year while also running for reelection to Congress. Maloney’s district also went for Trump in 2016.
Both parties think they can win by campaigning on health care and tax reform. Democrats plan to go after Republicans for their votes on the American Health Care Act of 2017 and Paul Ryan’s tax reform plan that left many New Yorkers with higher federal income taxes thanks to new limits on deductions for state and local taxes, including property taxes. But Republicans also think those issues give themselves an advantage. “As far as the tax bill, we’re absolutely going to run on the economy, and again it’s going to be on offense," Proud said. "New Yorkers making less than $200,000 benefited from that.” While some New York households making less than $200,000 are actually paying more in federal taxes now because of the SALT deduction limit, Proud is presumably referring to the fact that projections showed most New Yorkers making less than $200,000 would see a net tax cut.
Proud also said that New York Republicans have distanced themselves from the SALT deduction limit and noted that upstate, where local taxes are lower than in the New York City area, was not as affected by it. “While (Democrats) will criticize the SALT deduction (cap), Republicans pushed to get the cap raised. Pete King, Donovan and Lee Zeldin and others fought to get the cap up to $10,000. They’re still talking about it, and I suspect that the Republican candidates in the targeted districts will be supportive of that, especially upstate where it saw a net benefit from the tax bill.”
Are these initial New York GOP targets within reach? It will depend on the dynamics in the districts, including the strength of the candidates in both parties. Here’s a rundown on each district, member and his potential opponents.
Max Rose, District 11
In 2018, Rose, an Afghanistan war veteran who had not previously held elected office, mounted a campaign against two-term Republican incumbent Dan Donovan in his Republican-leaning Staten Island and southern Brooklyn district. By October, the approval rating of Congress had sunk to around 20 percent, Democrats were leading in national polls and Rose had about $2 million more in his campaign bank account than Donovan, raising the profile of the race. Rose won 53 percent to 47 percent, claiming a seat that many experts predicted would go to Donovan.
Staten Island Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis has already announced her 2020 candidacy, but she might be kneecapped in the primary by former Republican congressman (and felon) Michael Grimm, who told Politico that he’s 90 percent of the way to announcing another bid. He ran in the last cycle, but lost to Donovan in the primary. Against Malliotakis, he might have a better shot. Establishment Republicans are widely believed to be rooting for Malliotakis, as Grimm’s combative personality – he once threatened to throw a reporter off a balcony for asking a question he didn’t like – and criminal record make him a risky choice as the nominee.
Either challenger is going to try to pin Rose to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the far-left contingent of the Democratic freshman class, but it’ll be a hard case to make – and not just because Rose voted against Pelosi for speaker. Rose won on a centrist platform, and while he has voted with his party on every measure this cycle, he has remained on (bipartisan) message in town halls. In debates with Donovan, Rose was adamant that if the opportunity arose, he wouldn’t vote to impeach Trump, giving him cover for the oncoming post-Mueller report Republican attacks.
Sean Patrick Maloney, District 18
Maloney is an attorney who has represented the district – which stretches across New York City’s far northern suburbs and through the lower Hudson Valley – since 2013. The most entrenched of the targets, Maloney trounced his opponent James O’Donnell in the midterms, beating the Republican challenger by more than 25,000 votes and a 15.2 percent margin in a district that leans Republican (although it went for former President Barack Obama in 2012).
That it’s an Obama-Trump district makes Republicans think they have a shot, but it’s likely a long one. Maloney is popular in his district and has courted swing voters with his moderate record. The best hope Republicans may have is to use that against Maloney by painting his sometimes-confusing positions, notably on health care, and his attorney general campaign as evidence he’s an unprincipled opportunist.
Republicans’ main challenge will be fielding a strong enough candidate to run against him. The 2018 U.S. Senate candidate Chele Farley’s name is being thrown around as a potential challenger, but the little-known New York City Republican Party finance chairwoman did very poorly in her run against U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, losing by 34 points.
Antonio Delgado, District 19
Delgado’s midterm victory over freshman Republican incumbent John Faso was an upset in the most closely watched race in New York. Delgado, an African-American and Puerto Rican lawyer who had never held elected office, made health care a defining issue of the political contest, despite his opponent’s efforts to make it a race about race. The district, which covers most of the Mid-Hudson Valley and parts of the Catskills, is Republican-leaning and went for Trump by nearly seven points in 2016. Delgado raised double the funds of Faso and ran on a moderate, mainstream platform.
However, post-Mueller, Delgado has not tempered his criticism of Trump, teaming up with Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney recently in Poughkeepsie to talk about infrastructure and the need to release the full Mueller report to the public. It’s unclear what kind of challenger Delgado will face in 2020. But in a district that Obama carried by wider margins in 2008 and 2012 than Trump carried it in 2016, and that is split pretty evenly between Democrats and Republicans, a far-right candidate will likely flounder.
Anthony Brindisi, District 22
Brindisi, an attorney and former assemblyman, narrowly defeated Republican incumbent and former Rep. Claudia Tenney, whose vociferous support for Trump and aggressive, right-wing political identity failed to carry her back to Washington. Trump won the Central New York district by 15 points, the widest margin of any of the districts being targeted by Republicans. But if Tenney’s campaign is any indication, the president’s support might not be enough to get his party’s representatives across the finish line in 2020.
Tenney, who served only one term before Brindisi flipped her seat, has not ruled out another run. In fact, her recent statements to the press about a “dangerous socialist agenda” suggest that she is testing the waters. But if not Tenney, Republicans will surely run another conservative against Brindisi. The Democrat has a moderate record: He once held an ‘A’ rating from the National Rifle Association, voted in this cycle against a gun control measure and voted against Nancy Pelosi for speaker. Tenney’s moderate Republican predecessor, Richard Hanna, endorsed Brindisi in the last election. Brindisi has also avoided alienating the many Trump supporters in his district. He sat with New York Republican Rep. John Katko during the State of the Union address and was very complimentary of the president’s remarks.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Rep. Anthony Brindisi’s rating from the National Rifle Association.
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