New York’s Harbinger Election
The freedom to choose an abortion shifted the balance in an upstate congressional race; a sign of things to come this fall?
For all the attention that focused the last few weeks on two congressional races happening in the heart of New York City, one pitting two Democratic lions of the House against each other and the other a free-for-all battle for a rare open seat in a heavily Democratic district, the big story coming out of Tuesday’s primary elections of greater importance to the rest of the country happened way upstate, in the bucolic hills of the Catskills and the upper Hudson River valley south of Albany. That’s where Ulster County executive Pat Ryan, a Democrat, went head-to-head against Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess County executive. Both counties were part of the sprawling 19th district, which was held by Antonio Delgado, a Democrat, until he was handpicked by the state’s governor Kathy Hochul to become her lieutenant governor in the wake of an ethics scandal that caused his predecessor to step down.
With 92% of the precincts reporting, Ryan is ahead with 51.1% of the vote, and he — along with most political observers — is stunned. “I honestly can’t believe it,” he told the crowd at his election night party. As Greg Sargent notes in the Washington Post, Ryan’s own advisers “did not expect quite the turnout he ended up generating.” The district went for Trump in 2016 and though Delgado took it back in 2018 as part of Democratic mid-term surge of that cycle, President Biden only won it by 1.5 points in 2020. Conventional wisdom was that it would tilt Republican again now, as mid-term elections usually punish the party of whoever is in the White House.
But that was before the Supreme Court’s demolition of abortion rights. Once the Dobbs decision was out, Ryan ran hard on abortion, using language that until now we rarely hear from pro-choice Democrats. The issue, he told voters in ads and on the stump, was not whether we would keep abortion “safe, rare and legal,” or even if “abortion is healthcare,” a framing that is favored by many health justice advocates, but whether Republicans were going to be allowed to take away our freedoms.
In his first ad, which starts by highlighting Ryan’s military service, he asked…