Analysis: 18 hours, 5 very different campaigns

In the above Zoom screenshot provided by the campaign of former U.S. Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-New Hartford, Donald Trump Jr. endorses Tenney.

OSWEGO — A rapid-fire series of communications this week from the campaigns of local congressional candidates provided an inside look at the strategies each are likely to deploy in the upcoming election.

Former U.S. Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-New Hartford, is seeking her old seat representing New York’s 22nd Congressional District, which includes portions of eastern Oswego County. She’s challenging current Congressman Anthony Brindisi, D-Utica.

Tenney kicked things off Tuesday afternoon announcing she had received the endorsement of Donald Trump Jr., another sign she plans to run on a strong conservative agenda and tie her candidacy to the White House.

"Claudia is indispensable to my father’s agenda,” said Trump Jr., the oldest son of President Donald Trump. “We need her in Congress to fight for making things in America again, to hold China accountable, and to grow our economy. She has both my dad’s and my support 100 percent. Claudia Tenney is great!”

Trump the elder traveled to Utica in 2018 campaigning for Tenney, and the attorney, small business owner and former member of the New York Assembly said she was honored to “ensure President Trump has a second successful term.”

“I am honored that the president’s son made the time today to help our campaign by motivating voters and helping to raise money so that our campaign will be prepared to take on the liberal special interests,” Tenney said. “We share a vision for a strong, prosperous, and free upstate and United States.”

Tenney lost a razor-thin race to Brindisi in 2018 and the two old foes, who have clashed since their days together as state Assembly members in Albany, are again on a collision course. Tenney faces a primary against Binghamton area Republican George Phillips but with a preponderance of GOP support both local and national, Tenney seems a strong favorite.

In contrast to Tenney’s hard party tack, the soft-spoken Brindisi has sought to position himself as a business-friendly moderate. Hours after Tenney’s release regarding Trump Jr.’s endorsement, Brindisi released his own news: he is (so far) the only member of the New York congressional delegation to be honored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce with two awards recognizing his “leadership and bipartisanship.”

 “We are living in unprecedented and divisive times,” Brindisi said, again pushing his role as a consensus builder. “That makes it all the more important that we work together to achieve our common goals. I will always put upstate New Yorkers first.”

The U.S. Chamber, a private organization that represents business interests nationwide, presented the awards —the Abraham Lincoln Leadership for America Award and Jefferson-Hamilton Award for Bipartisanship — to Brindisi this week. The first-term congressman took the opportunity to note he’s had four bills signed into law by President Trump. The Brindisi campaign has taken the unusual step for a Democrat of emphasizing Brindisi’s cooperation with the White House, including a March 3 West Wing meeting regarding coronavirus. Brindisi has shaken several conventions since his term began in 2019: he cast his vote for Joe Biden as Speaker of the House of Representatives, and voted to impeach Trump in December — despite Trump handily winning NY-22 in 2016.

Hot on the heels of Brindisi’s announcement, U.S. Rep. John Katko’s office proudly announced he had also been honored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for his bipartisanship.

“Last year, the Chamber launched a bipartisanship score for members of Congress, with the top-ranked of both parties receiving a 100 percent,” a release from Katko’s office said. “Ratings are based on the number of bills lawmakers cosponsored that were introduced by a member of the opposite party, and are calculated relative to a member’s performance compared to members of their own party. For the 116th Congress, Rep. Katko earned a bipartisanship score of 97 percent.”

Since his first day in office, Katko has consistently stated that he follows his conscience, not his party, when making decisions in Washington. A report from the Lugar Center last month named Katko the second-most bipartisan member of Congress. He is, to use an oxymoronic phrase, aggressively moderate.

“Since coming to Congress, I have proudly worked with Democrats and Republicans to pass legislation that has made a positive impact on central New York and our nation,” Katko said Wednesday. “But, there is more work to be done. As central New York’s representative, I will continue to act as a leading bipartisan voice in Congress and deliver real results for our region.”

Democrat Dana Balter has been hot on Katko’s heels for the better part of four years. The Syracuse professor and community activist came tantalizingly close to knocking off the incumbent in 2018 and is back this year for another bite at the apple. First, however, Balter must get through a bruising primary against fellow Syracuse Democrat Francis Conole.

Balter has leaned heavily on her experience and broad support throughout the primary campaign. Hours after Katko’s announcement trumpeting his bipartisanship, Balter released the results of a “brand new poll” showing Balter with a “formidable lead” of 60 percent to 31 percent. According to her campaign, Balter leads among “men and women, younger and older, liberals and moderates, Syracuse voters, suburban voters, and voters outside of Onondaga County.” A small point for clarity, however: polls released by campaigns do not always reflect the reality of a race.

“I’m proud that Democratic voters of central and western New York have confidence in my ability to take on John Katko in November,” Balter said. “The past few months have made it clearer than ever that we need to replace Donald Trump and his enablers in Congress like John Katko; their failed leadership has been a disaster for our communities.”

Balter and Conole are scheduled to engaged in a series of online debates, beginning this coming Monday. In an interview this week with The Palladium-Times, Conole said it was he, in fact, who had amassed the broad popular support necessary to win the primary and general election.

“There’s a reason why at this point I’ve earned 33 endorsements from a coalition of Democrats both local and national who have a history of winning,” Conole, a graduate of the United States Naval Academy who spent two decades in uniform, said. Conole last week announced the endorsement of the Hudson Valley’s U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney and earned a noteworthy early endorsement from Syracuse-based union Ironworkers 60.

The primary election is June 23; general election is Nov. 3.

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