Primary results incomplete but favor Balter, Tenney

In this November 2019 photo, Francis Conole, left, and Dana Balter, right, participate in a candidate forum at SUNY Oswego. If Tuesday's primary election results hold, Balter will advance to the November general election as the Democratic Party nominee to face U.S. Rep. John Katko, R-Camillus.

SYRACUSE — Tuesday’s primary election results won’t be official until at least July but early vote totals appear to favor two congressional candidates for whom campaigns are not just an endeavor but a lifestyle.

Board of Elections officials in Albany and locally have cautioned that Tuesday’s results represent fewer than half of all votes cast, and consist only of in-person and early voting results. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 has seen an overwhelming increase in absentee ballot voting and the counting of the balance of ballots will not begin until July 1.

Despite this relatively small sample size, Tuesday’s results were stark if not decisive. In the Democratic Party primary for the 24th Congressional District, Dana Balter received 64.3 percent (10,374 votes) to Franics Conole’s 35.6 (5,744). In the Republican Party primary for the 22nd Congressional District, Claudia Tenney outpaced opponent George Phillips by a margin of more than 2-to-1. Phillips conceded the race Wednesday morning.

Conole, an Onondaga County native and recently retired Navy officer, is not going as quietly. According to a spokesperson, there remain “tens of thousands of absentee ballots that need to be counted.”

“The margin will go up and down as these remaining ballots are counted in the coming weeks,” said a statement from Conole’s campaign emailed to media members shortly before 11 p.m. Tuesday. “Francis Conole and our campaign will continue to focus on fighting for the people of central New York.”

It would be an uphill but not inconceivable feat for Conole to claw within striking distance of Balter’s sizable Tuesday lead. The former Syracuse professor and 2018 Democratic Party nominee versus U.S. Rep. John Katko won’t wait around and find out.

“I’ve made it clear from the very beginning that my focus has been on John Katko and unseating him,” Balter told The Palladium-Times Tuesday. “This is a fight to put someone in that seat who will hold this administration accountable.”

Balter resisted the urge to spike the football on election night despite the encouraging news. In a brief video message posted late Tuesday night, she said a definitive result was not yet available but thanked her supporters for their effort and promised updates when available.

Some NY-24 Democrats were quick to throw their support behind Balter once a clear trend emerged in the voting results. A Wednesday morning release announced the formation of a “Democratic Unity Fund,” led by local Dem officials from all four of the district’s counties.

Oswego’s Tom Drumm, who represents the city in the Oswego County Legislature, along with New York Assemblymember Pamela Hunter of Onondaga County and other party and labor leaders from around the district, joined the effort pledging to “support the eventual NY-24 Democratic nominee.”

“John Katko has already raised millions of dollars from corporate-backed special interests and his Republican overlords in Washington,” said Roger Misso, also a former Navy officer who made the Dem primary a three-way race before suspending his campaign in March. “(Katko) endorsed Donald Trump, an impeached president who has failed to uphold our central New York values. This is our time to unite as Democrats. The primary is over, and now it’s our turn to step up and support our eventual Democratic nominee.”

Tuesday’s result sets up a grudge match between Tenney, who represented NY-22 from 2017 to 2019, and U.S. Rep. Anthony Brindisi, D-Utica, who took the seat from her two years ago in a race decided by less than 1 percentage point.

“President Trump needs allies in Washington – to fight for our common sense conservative values,” Tenney, a staunch conservative from Oneida County, said in a statement claiming primary victory. “I will continue our great work in Congress to protect our seniors, honor our veterans, save our family farms, and help our small businesses. It is important now more than ever to rebuild the great economy that we helped to grow that was knocked down as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.”

No opponent emerged to challenge Brindisi for any of his three ballot lines: Dem, Independence and Working Families. In a statement Wednesday morning, the Brindisi campaign claimed more than twice as much cash on hand ($2.3 million) as Tenney. The first-term Democrat will need equal parts money, skill and breaks to defend his seat in a district that went strongly for President Donald Trump in 2016.

“Congressman Brindisi has proven himself to be an independent voice and outspoken fighter who has stood up to Washington politicians and delivered real results for upstate New York, passing four bills signed into law by President Trump,” said Lucy MacIntosh, manager of the Brindisi re-election campaign. “He has kept his word to the voters, from the Southern Tier to Oswego, which is why so many are eager to support his re-election.”

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