The Anomaly of the 22nd Congressional District

Anthony Palazzola, Class of 2022

With less than fifty days until the midterm elections, national trends are becoming clearer. The Democratic Party has a decent chance to regain control of the House of Representatives, and the Party’s strength is mostly coming from suburban districts: the type of districts carried by both Gov. Mitt Romney in 2012 and Sec. Hillary Clinton in 2016. These suburban districts tend to be affluent and globalistic in nature, and they have always been opposed to the America First nationalist agenda put forth by President Trump. In fact, these districts have become so hostile to the Trump Administration that incumbent Republican Representatives, who survived in 2016, are in serious danger of losing during this cycle. Transformations in suburbia are driving the Democratic Party, and suburbia will therefore be where Democrats gain nearly all of their seats.

A rare exception: New York District 22, which encompasses Colgate University. Currently held by Republican Representative Claudia Tenney, this district voted for President Trump by 15 points in 2016. The district is overwhelmingly rural, which is not exactly advantageous turf for the Democratic Party. However, the race this cycle between Tenney and her Democratic opponent, Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, is extremely competitive. According to Siena College, the race is “in a near dead heat” with Brindisi enjoying a small advantage. If Brindisi pulls off a victory, it will be quite unique. Throughout the country there are only a handful of rural districts that are in play.

The most likely explanation for the competitiveness in District 22 has to do with the values of the candidates on the ballot. It has little to do with President Trump and the Republican Party as a whole.

First, it is imperative to analyze the values of the district. For simplification, one can generalize that the district is culturally conservative, but economically progressive or populist. The culturally conservative aspect of the district is seen in the popularity of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the prevalence of Baptist churches throughout. The economic progressive/populist aspect of the district is seen in the outcomes of the 2016 elections. Sen. Bernie Sanders easily defeated Sec. Clinton in this district during the Democratic Primary, and (as mentioned earlier) President Trump carried the district by a large margin in the general election. These components of the district explain past election results, such as President Obama’s 2012 victory in the district. As he did in 2008, Obama stressed economic progressivism during the campaign. This resonated well with the voters in District 22. Gov. Romney stressed economic conservatism, which was (as per criteria) received poorly in the district. Also, while Romney may have been slightly more culturally conservative than Obama, Romney was viewed as a globalist elite from liberal Massachusetts. Thus, he was not to be trusted in regard to cultural conservatism. So, in a complex way, the voters in District 22 had more in common with President Obama than Governor Romney. Hence, the President carried the district.

Under this method, it is quite easy to realize that Brindisi has the advantage over Tenney. Brindisi is economically progressive/populist, as seen in his desire to protect the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid. On Twitter, Brindisi promises to “fight for higher wages, better healthcare, and fair trade deals to protect workers.” Interestingly, Brindisi is also culturally conservative. For example, he has a 100% rating from the NRA, and he voted against the NY SAFE Act. Therefore, Brindisi fits the district completely. But Tenney does not. While she is culturally conservative, she is also economically conservative. This is evident in her support for the Tax Reform overhaul (which lowered taxes for the wealthy), her votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act and her vote to gut Dodd- Frank. Simply put, her economic policies are at odds with the people of her district. Comparatively, this then justifies an advantage for Brindisi and a rare potential victory for Democrats in rural America.

So for this trend to change, Tenney ought to stress her cultural philosophy much more than her economic philosophy. This includes her connection to President Trump, who has a strong net-approval rating of 7 points in the district according to the Siena poll. Thus, it would be much to Tenney’s advantage to rally with the President. But this is unlikely to occur for two reasons: downstate Republicans are weary of association with President Trump, particularly when considering his mere 39 percent approval rating statewide and the President rallies primarily for Senate candidates, but rarely for House candidates. There is simply not enough time for the latter. So Tenney has a problem in this regard, giving the advantage to Brindisi.

Contact Anthony Palazzola at [email protected].