Campaigns & Elections

Seven key upstate New York congressional races to watch

Democrats hope to inch closer to defeating Trump-linked candidates.

Rep. Antonio Delgado

Rep. Antonio Delgado Seth Wenig/AP/Shutterstock

New York may be a blue state overall, with Republicans shut out of statewide office, but a more detailed map would show a patchwork of red, blue and purple, with most of the GOP’s strongholds several hours north of New York City. In the blue wave of 2018, Democrats flipped two congressional seats in upstate New York. Between Democrats defending those seats and targeting additional pick-up opportunities, that means there are a number of competitive upstate races to watch on election night. 

As in competitive downstate districts, upstate Republican candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives have largely supported President Donald Trump, while Democrats have walked a thin line, trying to please both their progressive base and the swing voters they need to win. 

City & State has compiled a rundown of the key upstate congressional races, roughly in descending order of competitiveness, including fundraising totals, election probabilities from the Cook Political Report and the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, and polls featured on FiveThirtyEight

NY-24: Rep. John Katko v. Dana Balter

Three-term Republican Rep. John Katko will face Democratic challenger Dana Balter once again after her defeat in the 2018 race by five percentage points. Balter is now looking to redeem herself in the swing district that represents 164,453 registered Democrats and 147,013 Republicans. The district voted blue in the 2008, 2012 and 2016 presidential elections. An Oct. 25 poll conducted by Siena College expects a tie in the race. Other polls, however, have shown disagreement. An Oct. 22 poll conducted by the Public Opinion Strategies expects Katko to win by eight points while an Oct. 15 poll by Public Policy Planning presents the possibility of Balter winning by two.

The Central and Western New York district ranges from the bottom of Cayuga County to Lake Ontario and includes the cities of Syracuse and Oswego. During a debate on Sunday, the candidates focused on Trump, as Balter criticized Katko for having endorsed the president for reelection. Katko defended himself as an “independent individual” with his own mind. Katko has voted in line with Trump 74.4% of the time. The granddaughter of Holocaust survivors who has a brother with cognitive disabilites, Balter is a committed disability rights activist and a former director of education at a disability services nonprofit professor of public policy at Syracuse University. She has been endorsed by major Democrats, including former President Barack Obama. Other than the deep divide in the candidates' viewpoints, there remains another potentially looming figure in the election: Steve Williams. Williams was a temporary placeholder for the Working Families Party slot until the Democratic primary was decided. Despite WFP endorsing Balter, a judge ruled that Williams’ name will still appear on the ballot, potentially taking away votes from Balter in the already tight race. 

As of Oct. 14, Katko has raised $3,547,567 with $891,453 left over for the final stretch. He outraised Balter who reeled in $2,760,981 and has $119,720 left to propel her until Nov. 3.

2018 result: Katko (R) 52.6%, Balter (D) 47.4%

Sabato: Toss-up

Cook: Toss-up

Latest poll: Tie (Siena College)

NY-22: Rep. Anthony Brindisi v. Claudia Tenney 

This race is a repeat of the contentious 2018 race, when Republican then-Rep. Claudia Tenney, a staunch Trump supporter, lost her seat to Democrat Anthony Brinidisi by a margin of 1.8%. Now, Brindisi – a centrist former Assembly Member, who touts his bipartisan credentials – is fighting a comeback attempt from Tenney, and most numbers are in his favor this year despite his razor-thin win in 2018. The district appears to favor Tenney with 170,966 registered Republicans compared to 144,260 Democrats. Plus, the district voted red for both the 2016 and 2012 presidential elections, after a 49% to 49% tie in 2008. Despite this, Brindisi has managed to gain considerable support across the district since his two years in office and leads Tenney with nine points according to a Siena College poll published on Oct. 8.

The district stretches from the Southern Tier, along the border of Pennsylvania, through Central New York and up to the Lake Ontario waterfront. The district is mostly rural, with a smattering of small cities, including Binghamton and Utica. Tenney has stuck by Trump, who recently endorsed her on Twitter.“Claudia Tenney is GREAT,” Trump wrote. “Loves New York and USA. She has my full and complete endorsement! Vote.” In 2017 and 2018, Tenney voted with Trump 96.9% of the time, whereas Brindisi has one of the most moderate voting records in Congress. The Democrat has also tried to boost youth turnout, holding town halls at educational institutions across his district. 

As of Oct. 14, Brindisi has raised $5,482,309 with 594,449 left to spare until Election Day. Tenney has garnered $2,117,883, with 345,995 on hand.

2018 result: Brindisi (D) 50.9%, Tenney (R) 49.1%

Sabato: Toss-up

Cook: Toss-up

Latest poll: Brindisi +9 (Siena College)

NY-19: Rep. Antonio Delgado v. Kyle Van De Water

In 2018, the 19th Congressional District saw a hotly contested race won by Democrat Antonio Delgado, a first-time candidate who became the first Black and Hispanic member of Congress to be elected from Upstate. 

Now, Delgado faces Republican Kyle Van De Water, who has advertised himself as a local and trustworthy conservative. Delgado, a moderate Democrat who moved to the district not long before he ran for office, seems poised to win a second-term, but not without some difficulty. 

The purple district ranges from the Hudson Valley to the Catskill Mountains, including 168,639 registered Democrats and 149,854 registered Republicans. In 2016, the district went for Trump with a 7% margin, after voting for former President Barack Obama in 2012 and 2008. The district’s seat has always been contested by both parties, but was held by the GOP since 2010 until Delgado unseated Rep. John Faso by a margin of 5.2%. Delgado is the second Democrat to win the district since 2000, the other being two-term Democrat John Hall. During a debate on Oct. 15, Delgado highlighted his work with the rural communities and small businesses who suffered during the pandemic while Van De Water claimed Delgado was being used by the far left for their own agenda. 

As of Oct. 14, Delgado has raised $5,758,760 with $3,309,264 on hand to propel his campaign forward in the closing days before the election. In comparison, Van De Water has raised $130,476 with $53,892 left to spend for the final stretch.

2018 result: Delgado (D) 51.4%, Faso (R) 46.2%

Sabato: Likely Democratic

Cook: Likely Democratic

Latest poll: N/A

NY-27: Rep. Chris Jacobs v. Nathan McMurray

This past summer, Republican Rep. Chris Jacobs won a special election against Democrat Nathan McMurray after former Rep.Chris Collins resigned before he pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit securities fraud, along with lying to the FBI. Jacobs won by 5.2 points, a slim margin for a district which voted overwhelmingly for Trump, giving him a 24.5-point margin, in 2016. McMurray, a supervisor for the town of Grand Island, voiced his determination to make sure “Jacobs has the shortest term in Congress ever” after his loss. In 2018, McMurray also lost to Collins by a razor-thin margin of .3% points, while Collins was facing those charges. The district has 194,901 registered Republicans and 153,511 Democrats.

The 27th Congressional District surrounds Buffalo, but does not include the city itself. In light of the conservative politics of his district, Jacobs has aligned himself with Trump’s policies and received a 100% voting score for voting with the president. While Jacobs defends Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, McMurray is anti-Trump. The two candidates are divided on issues including abortion, marijuana, health care and the pandemic.

From April 1st to Oct. 14, Jacobs raised $1,974,494 and he ended that period with $53,233 cash on hand. From Jan. 1 to Oct. 14, McMurray reeled in $1,075,295 and he had $367,934 left to spend. 

2018 result: Collins (R) 49.1%, McMurray (D) 48.8%

2020 result: Jacobs (R) 51.8%, McMurrary (D) 46.5%

Sabato: Likely Republican

Cook: Solid Republican 

Latest poll: N/A

NY-21: Rep. Elise Stefanik v Tedra Cobb

Three-term Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik is fending off her seat from Democrat Tedra Cobb for a second time. Just two years ago, Stefanik beat Cobb by 14 points. Nonetheless, both candidates have raked in millions of dollars, as the race has drawn national attention. Stefanik, who has far outraised Cobb, has done so through her unrelenting support for Trump, whom she defended during the impeachment trial. Originally a moderate, Stefanik has moved rightward, which some have claimed shows she is out of touch with her constituents. Stefanik has a voting record that is 78.3% in line with Trump’s policies.

New York’s rural northeastern district stretches from Saratoga to the Canadian border near Plattsburgh and includes 132,501 registered Democrats and 178,867 Republicans. The district strongly voted from Trump in 2016 with a margin of almost 14 points. While Stefanik pleases Trump’s audience, Cobb has pulled in half the campaign funds that Stefanik has, but it has been five times more than what she raised in 2018. A moderate, Cobb hopes to engage with the swing voters of her district, who voted for Obama in 2012 and 2008. Stefanik is still poised to win reelection for a fourth-term, but not without an energetic challenge. 

As of Oct. 14, Stefanik’s fundraising efforts have raised an outstanding $11,463,044 with $3,095,152 for the closing days until the elections. Cobb has drawn in $5,327,899, with just under $740,000 left over. 

2018 result: Stefanik (R) 56.1%, Cobb (D) 42.4%

Cook: Solid Republican 

Latest poll: N/A

NY-23: Rep. Tom Reed v. Tracy Mitrano 

Republican Rep. Tom Reed is up against a familiar face, Democrat Tracy Mitrano. Although Reed is expected to win the race with a district that voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016, according to an Oct. 6 poll by Global Strategy Group and Public Policy Polling, Mitrano has been able to close the gap from previous estimates, trailing by seven points, down from 12 in July. As Mitrano catches up, Reed has been “in the incumbent danger zone.”

Including portions of the Southern Tier and Western New York, the district spans from the outskirts of Binghamton to Lake Erie. It also includes the college town of Ithaca, which Mitrano hails from – a fact Reed has used against her.The largely rural area has 194,901 registered Republicans and 153,511 Democrats. Reed has voted in line with the president 89% percent of the time. In January, Reed was named an honorary chair for the Trump campaign. Reed has called Mitrano an “extreme Ithaca liberal,” while Mitrano has charged at both Reed and Trump for being “racist.”

As of Oct. 14, Reed has acquired $3,170,539 and has $802,508 cash on hand to spend before the election. Mitrano trails Reed with $1,388,975 total receipts and just over $160,000 to go into November with. 

2018 result: Reed (R) 54.2%, Mitrano (D) 45.8%

Cook: Solid Republican 

Latest poll: Reed + 7 (Public Policy Polling and Global Strategy Group)

NY-18: Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney v. Chele Farley

New York’s 18th Congressional District race features the familiar incumbent, Democratic Rep. Maloney, who has held the seat since 2012. Now, Chele Farley looks to take Maloney’s seat, with a strategy of aligning herself with Trump, who won the historically blue district by a slim margin in 2016. From the edge of New Jersey to the border of Connecticut, the Hudson Valley district encompasses Orange, Putnam and parts of Dutchess and Westchester counties, and it has 179,146 registered Democrats and 144,444 Republicans. 

Farley has a background in finance, having worked for Goldman Sachs and UBS Capital, and she used to be the GOP’s New York City finance chair. Farley moved to Tuxedo in 2018, after her defeat by U.S. Sen. Kristen Gillibrand. Previously a resident of Manhattan, Farley has said she was sick of New York City politics and announced her candidacy for Congress just after moving to Orange County.

Farley looks headed for another loss: Maloney holds an 18-point lead, according to an Oct. 19 poll conducted by Global Strategy Group. However, Maloney lost the 2018 Democratic primary for state attorney general and his simultaneous campaigning for that and reelection to Congress raised some eyebrows at the time. Nonetheless, he did win reelection to Congress against Republican James O’Donnell in 2018. 

As of Oct. 14, Maloney has $1,080,504 cash on hand after obtaining $2,360,116. Farley, a GOP fundraiser, has raised $1,138,412 within the same time frame and has $237,205 cash on hand to spend until election day.

2018 result: Maloney (D) 55.5%, O’Donnell (R) 44.5%

Sabato: Likely Democratic

Cook: Likely Democratic

Latest poll: Maloney + 18 (Global Strategy Group)