By Jim Ellis
Oct. 18, 2016 — Last week we predicted that Senate and House Republicans would soon begin distancing themselves from Donald Trump and start making the argument that voters should not invest all political power with unpopular Hillary Clinton. Already, we see such a move.
In New York’s open politically marginal 22nd District, the National Republican Congressional Committee just launched a new ad (above) for GOP Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney, who is currently locked in a difficult three-way battle with Democratic local official Kim Myers, and wealthy, self-funding Independent Martin Babinec. The spot explains how Tenney will “stand up to Hillary Clinton just like she’s always stood up to Gov. Cuomo,” thereby at least indirectly conceding that the former Secretary of State and First Lady will become president.
The NRCC spokespeople deny that the committee’s leadership is “changing strategy or assuming that Trump will lose.” Irrespective of the political organization’s public position, however, initiating such a message does portend a Trump defeat, but is an understandable retreat in a state that will vote overwhelmingly for Clinton. The thought process behind the ad attempts to take advantage of the fact that even though Clinton is well positioned for victory, her favorability index is poor, and trepidation about her becoming the nation’s chief executive certainly exists even among those supporting her.
Such being the case, the argument for balancing tickets in this election could be more salient than it proved in recent political contests. As we have seen through most of the 21st Century, partisanship among voters is at an all time high – for those who identify with a political party – and virtually the only remaining swing votes declare themselves as independent or unaffiliated.
Tenney is in a more difficult position than most GOP candidates because she is fighting a multi-front battle. In addition to competing with Myers, a Broome County legislator, and Independent entrepreneur Babinec, the district tends to vote for as many Democrats as it does Republicans. Furthermore, she has drawn the ire of outgoing Republican congressman Richard Hanna (R-Barneveld).
Bad blood exists between the incumbent representative, a moderate to liberal Republican, and Tenney, an activist conservative largely because she challenged him in the 2014 GOP primary, a contest where she attracted 46.5 percent support. The congressman has yet to specifically back anyone in this race, but he has announced opposition to Tenney and promoted both Myers and Babinec as worthy of support. Rep. Hanna also became the first Republican congressman to openly say he would vote for Hillary Clinton.
Babinec adds a different component to the race. Positioned to spend more than $2.2 million of his own money on an Independent congressional bid, the local venture capitalist is a factor and could conceivably win should Tenney and Myers come close to evenly splitting the vote. Babinec is striking a middle-of-the-road posture, but appears to be a bit more conservative than liberal, especially on economic issues. He has publicly indicated a desire to caucus with the Republicans should he be elected.
New York’s 22nd District is an Upstate seat located in the central region, and travels in a north-south direction. Beginning on the shore of Lake Ontario, the district moves south all the way to the Pennsylvania border, encompassing the larger population centers of Binghamton and Utica. NY-22 hosts four full counties, and parts of four others. The previous presidential candidates in both of the last two elections each attracted 49 percent of the district vote.
Though Rep. Hanna has won here three times, and would have been favored for re-election had he decided to seek another term, Tenney is to the right of the average voter here, and it will be a challenge for her to hold the seat in the Republican column. The race now must be considered a toss-up because Babinec is an important influencing factor. His presence turns this campaign into a wild card contest.