Three New York Democrats ousted Republican members of Congress during the 2018 midterm elections. Now the GOP wants those seats back, and in Tuesday’s state primary Republican voters will be lining up behind the candidates they think have the best shot of retaking control.
In the battleground of the 22nd Congressional District in central New York, Republican Claudia Tenney is looking for a rematch against Rep. Anthony Brindisi, the freshman who bounced her from office two years ago. But first she needs to dispatch primary opponent George Phillips, a Binghamton history teacher making his third run for Congress.
In the 11th Congressional District, which includes Staten Island and a part of Brooklyn, Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis and former prosecutor Joe Caldarera are facing off in the Republican primary for the right to take on Rep. Max Rose.
And in the Catskills and Hudson Valley, Republicans Ola Hawatmeh, a fashion designer from Poughkeepsie, and Kyle Van De Water, a lawyer and Army veteran, are vying to be the candidate who takes on freshman Democrat Rep. Antonio Delgado.
Brindisi, Rose and Delgado are all unopposed in the primary.
Trump has endorsed Tenney and Malliotakis, making them the favorites to win their party’s nominations.
Tenney said she is relishing another potential match up with Brindisi in a district that Trump carried by a wide margin in 2016. The Republican and Democrat were separated by fewer than 2 percentage points in the 2018 election, one in which Tenney’s fervent support for Trump probably hurt her with many voters.
“I’m an independent thinker, I’m not some monolithic Republican,” she said. “Whenever I’m in a primary, they call me a liberal and in the general [election], they call me a right-winger and none of that’s true.”
Still, she said she intends to make Brindisi’s vote to impeach Trump an issue if she makes it past Phillips in the primary.
The House Republican’s campaign committee announced Thursday a $3.3 million ad buy to support Tenney and a pro-House Republican super PAC has reserved $2.2 million worth of ads backing her this fall.
Millions of dollars are already flowing into the race to unseat Rose, a centrist military veteran who won by nearly 10 points in 2018 in a district whose voters supported Trump by about 15 percentage points in 2016.
Malliotakis, who represents Brooklyn and Staten Island and unsuccessfully ran for New York City mayor in 2017, said voters want someone to stand up to “the socialists.” She said voters are tired of one-party rule and argued New York may be getting less federal COVID-19 aid than other states “because of our leadership.”
“It’s been important for New York City to have one Republican voice in Washington,” she said. “Even if you’re a Democrat … there’s where you get productive negotiation.”
Caldarera, a former assistant district attorney in Brooklyn, claims Rose falsely portrayed himself as a centrist and has now lost credibility.
“A lot of people realize it, they were fooled, they were duped,” he said. And he called Malliotakis one of the “most left-leaning liberal Republicans within New York City.”
Brindisi didn’t respond to requests for comment. Rose’s campaign didn’t make the congressman available for interview.
Republicans are now outnumbered 21-to-5 in the state’s congressional delegation, with one seat vacant.
Richard Flanagan, a political science professor at the College of Staten Island, said Trump’s lackluster approval ratings could hurt New York Republicans.
“As the national party has really become a party of the South and the Southwest, it’s leaving the New York State Republicans higher and drier than they’ve already been, which is pretty high and dry,” Flanagan said.