Updated Aug 24, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Democrats hold onto key House seat in N.Y. special election

Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan. Photo: Cindy Schultz for The Washington Post via Getty Images.

Democrat Pat Ryan on Tuesday won the special election for the U.S. House seat in New York's 19th district after it was vacated by Democrat Antonio Delgado, according to the AP.

Why it matters: The result is an upset for Republicans, who were seen as slight favorites to flip the seat. It's also validation of Democrats' strategy of hammering the issue of abortion in the aftermath of Roe v. Wade being overturned.

  • The race was seen as a key test for the two parties' messaging strategies, with Ryan focused on abortion and Republican Marc Molinaro hammering on inflation and crime, as Axios previously reported.

The context: The Hudson Valley-based 19th district has been a critical building block in Democrats' recent majorities. Delgado, who stepped down in May to serve as New York lieutenant governor, won it by 11 points in 2020, while Biden won it by 2 points.

  • Both national parties invested in the race, hoping a win there would provide a burst of enthusiasm heading into November.
  • Ryan cast the race as a referendum on abortion after the Supreme Court's decision overturning Roe vs. Wade, while Molinaro stuck to GOP talking points on inflation and crime.
  • Ryan and Molinaro, both electorally proven county executives with cross-party appeal, were roughly evenly matched in terms of fundraising.

The context: Ryan, an Iraq veteran and former business owner, previously ran for the seat in 2018, narrowly losing to Delgado in the primary.

  • The following year he won election as executive of Ulster County – the district's population center – in a landslide.

What we're watching: Ryan shied away from the progressive label in an interview with Axios last month, noting he "increased funding to ... law enforcement" as county executive.

  • "I characterize myself as someone who's trying to level some of the foundational inequities we've allowed to be built in our country," he said. "Whatever label we want to apply to that, I think it's more about actually delivering on those results."
  • Still, he also positioned himself as a staunch advocate for major judicial and political reforms, indicating openness to expanding the Supreme Court and nuking the filibuster.
  • In addition to abortion, he made gun control and voting rights key issues of his campaign.

What they're saying: Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) said Ryan's win "sends a clear message that voters are fighting back against Republicans’ extreme attacks on abortion rights and their fundamental freedoms."

The other side: Michael McAdams, a spokesperson for the National Republican Congressional Committee, told Axios: “Majorities are won in November not August. We look forward to prosecuting the case against Democrats’ failed one party rule that’s left American families worse off.”

  • Molinaro did not concede the election in a speech Tuesday night, telling supporters, "spend the night with us as we wait for every vote to come in [...] we're going to make sure every voice is heard and every vote is counted."
  • "We are not going anywhere," he said. "Whether it's tonight or it's Nov. 8, we are going to win the 19th congressional district."

What's next: Molinaro's run in November will not be against Ryan, who is the nominee in a neighboring district being vacated by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.).

  • Ryan is set to face Republican state Assemblyman Colin Schmitt, while Molinaro will go up against Democratic attorney Josh Riley.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with comment from the NRCC.

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