Will abortion influence voter choices? NY House Race pose test.


CHATHAM, NY — Across New York’s Hudson Valley, ubiquitous lawn signs highlight how an upcoming special election for an open house seat has taken on outsized implications.

“The choice is on the ballot,” reads one sign, the white lettering thrown against a pink and blue background, and a smaller line below for Democratic nominee Pat Ryan.

The Aug. 23 contest for the seesaw district, which regularly swings between Democratic and Republican control, was initially touted as a potential indicator of President Biden’s stature among swing voters.

But the race — among the first House specials in a swing district since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade – quickly turned into a closely watched test case of how important abortion rights can be in a general election.

Mr Ryan, a veteran who serves as Ulster County Executive, supports protecting abortion access across the country. Dutchess County Republican executive Marc Molinaro is not.

Like many other Democratic congressional candidates across the country, Mr. Ryan is trying to make the threat to abortion rights a central campaign issue. He cites rollbacks in reproductive rights, the right to vote and access to health care as urgent indicators.

“This is an existential moment for our democracy,” he said.

Mr. Molinaro has also adopted a Republican Party strategy – to avoid talking about abortion whenever possible – which is starting to take hold, especially after voters in Kansas, a Republican state, overwhelmingly rejected a referendum that would have removed the right to abortion from the state constitution.

Survey shows that 65% of Americans think abortion should be legal in most or all cases – a number that has increased over the past decade. But whether that belief is enough to persuade voters to stick with the Democrats despite high gas prices and inflation remains to be seen — and it’s a question that reflects the party’s broader struggle to energize a base. socially and economically diverse in future terms.

New York’s 19th congressional district — last represented by Antonio Delgado, a Democrat who gave up his seat this spring to take up the post of lieutenant governor — is among the dwindling number of true swing districts in the country. Combining both the liberal cities of Kingston and Hudson with more conservative rural areas of Greene and Delaware counties, the district went for President Barack Obama in 2012 and Donald J. Trump in 2016 before narrowly returning to Democrats in 2020.

When Mr. Delgado won in 2018 and again in 2020, some saw the impact of well off townspeople, many of whom vote Democratic, who had begun to migrate to the Hudson Valley. This trend has only increased during the pandemic, revitalizing small towns but also exacerbating the region’s housing crisis and contributing to local tensions.

Mr Molinaro has tried to tailor his campaign to middle and working class concerns, often speaking out about crime and economic hardship, a struggle he says he knows first hand as a child growing up on food stamps. He blames Democratic policies in Albany and Washington for inflation and high consumer prices that he says are hurting upstate New Yorkers, urging voters to send a message to “liberals of the limousine”.

On social issues, Molinaro mostly toes the party line, saying he opposes a ban on assault rifles and is personally opposed to abortion. But where he once said that he viewed the constitutional right to abortion as settled law, he now says he believes the decision is up to the states and that he would vote against a federal law guaranteeing access to abortion nationwide . Likewise, he says he would oppose a nationwide ban.

The stance has put him on the defensive, especially given the weight Mr Ryan has given the issue in campaign literature and advertising. Indeed, Mr. Molinaro rarely talks about it except when he is in a hurry, as in a recent debate, when he invoked the rare late-term abortions as a reason to restrict the right to abortion.

“Like most people in this district, I just think there should be thoughtful limitations,” he said. Later, he pushed Mr. Ryan: “Are you okay, Pat, no limits? None? Do you think that even the second before giving birth, you are okay with abortion? »

Mr. Ryan describes his campaign as an outgrowth of the call to service that led him into the military, often speaking of responsibility to the community and the promise that government should be a force for good.

Like Mr. Molinaro, he agrees that the economy is not working for many in the working class, but blames big business for taking more than their share. Calling on entrenched politicians on both sides of the aisle, he envisions a “people-centric” economy supported by investments in childcare, housing and infrastructure.



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The contest caught the attention of supporter backers. During the last three month reporting period, Mr. Ryan has raised over $1 million. Mr. Molinaro has received help from the National Republican Congressional Committee, which plans to spend more than $700,000 on television ads in this race, according to media monitoring firm AdImpact.

Mr. Molinaro also has $1 million in cash and great local notoriety, first as the teenage mayor of the village of Tivoli and then as a 2018 gubernatorial candidate.

At the Greene County Youth Fair in late July, potential voters disagreed on how much the Supreme Court ruling on abortion would influence their voting choices.

Alea Fanelli, a registered Republican, said she considers herself an independent. And although she disapproves of Democratic prison reforms which she says have made her husband’s job as a prison officer more dangerous, she said she is still likely to vote for Mr Ryan, due of his support for the right to abortion.

A mother-of-one, she said her views were shaped by the need to “think about our children, for the future”. If abortion is banned, she says, “then what, we’re back in the back rooms, the alleys, the men kicking us in the stomach?”

Other attendees at the youth fair, who spoke about the bleating of award-winning goats, suggested the issue of abortion rights was overblown. Many Republican-leaning voters said that while they thought abortion should be available in some cases, it was not a motivational issue for them.

Some disagreed with the assumption that the procedure was in jeopardy, noting that it would remain available in New York state. Others said Republicans have no intention of outright banning the procedure — despite efforts to impose bans in nearly a dozen states.

Greene County Republican committee member Roger Maben has “mixed feelings” about abortion, but says that’s not the issue. “There’s an old saying when it comes to elections: it’s stupid economics!” he said, adding, “Abortion doesn’t matter.”

Adding to the plot is the chaos of redistricting, which has scrambled timelines and scrambled political races across the state, perhaps no more so than here.

The winner of the race will serve the remaining four months of Mr. Delgado’s term. There will be a separate election in November for the newly redesigned 19th District – whose geographic outlines expand west to encompass Tompkins and Tioga counties but lose much of the Hudson Valley.

Regardless of whether Mr. Molinaro wins the special election in August, he has pledged to run for the new 19th District seat in November. Mr Ryan, however, entered a three-way Democratic primary for a newly redrawn 18th district, which includes Dutchess and Orange counties as well as Ulster County, where he lives.

So by January, if Mr. Molinaro wins in the new 19th and Mr. Ryan wins in the new 18th, each could hold seats in Congress – although it’s also possible that both will find themselves jobless. For now though, both rivals are focused on the special election at a time they believe is critical.

Given all the upheaval the neighborhood has seen in recent years, local issues could also play a role in the race.

Abi Mesick, a member of the Chatham Democratic City Council, supports Mr Ryan. But she said she worries her party hasn’t done enough to reach working-class residents of the Hudson Valley whose communities have been altered by an influx of second-home owners and city dwellers.

She feared they were drawn to Mr. Molinaro’s charisma. “I bet three-quarters of them will vote for him, even if there are a few things they don’t like,” she said.

“Because they don’t like these guys,” she added, glancing at a group of older women dressed head to toe in linen. “These guys don’t represent them.”

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