Five Takeaways from the NY19 Democratic Primary | National | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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Five Takeaways from the NY19 Democratic Primary 

Analyzing the results of last Tuesday's primary and what they mean for national political trends.

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If you read Rolling Stone or listen to This American Life, but not Chronogram, the Daily Freeman or The Other Hudson Valley, you probably viewed the NY19 race very differently from someone who got most of their information about it from regional news outlets. That’s because, whereas the local outlets approached the race with detail-oriented coverage, the former, as would be reasonably expected, approached the race thematically. The only problem is that their narrative threads were pretty far off the mark, as was apparent in Tuesday’s results.

Jeff Beals was never a leading contender in this race, and the fact that he came in fourth (tied with Flynn) would’ve come as no shock to anybody closely following the race. Polls I was privy to didn’t even show him running competitive and his funds were too meager to supplement his admittedly robust canvassing effort. One Beals campaign operative insisted that they had 8,000 committed votes which, based off the results, would’ve put him over the top. But when asked for evidence of that figure, none was offered. He was always considered a long shot.

To paint Jeff Beals as the standard bearer of the progressive movement in NY19, as Rolling Stone and This American Life essentially did, was to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the race. Nearly every candidate in the race espoused a progressive ideology equal to Beals. In fact, some even saw Flynn, not Beals, as the furthest left in the field. But whatever ideological differences may have existed between the seven candidates, they were negligible at best.

Some also pegged Delgado and Ryan as “moderate Democrats,” who were in with the establishment. But Ryan and Delgado, neither of whom were endorsed or supported in any way by the national party, believe in an assault weapons ban, stricter environmental regulation and many more policies in the progressive mould. The only policy on which they truly differed from the rest of the field was healthcare; they support universal coverage through fixes to existing law while the rest support Medicare-for-all. But anyone who thinks that makes them moderates should consider Joe Manchin or Heidi Heitkamp, who vote with Trump 61% and 55% of the time respectively, and then try to claim that these two are even close to the center wing of the party.

While Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi, in his “Battle of Woodstock” series, touched on several other candidates besides Beals, he always seemed to gravitate back to Beals as the progressive champion of the district. Moreover, he failed to examine or interview Delgado or Ryan, the two frontrunners, opting instead to keep them at arms length as the hopelessly “establishment” candidates. The series was a compelling read, but one that ultimately failed to analyze the race in proper context. As for This American Life, the NPR show dedicated an hour just to Beals, failing to interview any other candidate. Again, it was an intriguing interview, but an improper way to frame the race.

The fundamentals prevailed.

click to enlarge Considering all predictive factors, Delgado was expected to win. - ANDREW SOLENDER
  • Andrew Solender
  • Considering all predictive factors, Delgado was expected to win.

In 2016, Donald Trump, outraised by Hillary Clinton and lagging behind in most polls, nevertheless prevailed, defeating Clinton in three crucial swing states and winning the presidency. Many in the pundit class pointed to that as an example of the ineptitude of pollsters, the fading influence of money in politics, and the failure of data scientists to properly forecast elections. However, they were sorely mistaken. 2016 polls actually predicted the popular vote much more accurately than the 2012 polls, and numerous studies and analyses have shown that polls are as accurate as ever despite some high profile misses.

Fundraising also remains an important factor in determining down-ballot elections like House races. The reason fundraising didn’t determine the victor in 2016 is because of its purpose. Fundraising is primarily meant to increase name recognition and relay messages, positive or negative, to voters. Since Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton had near universal name recognition among US voters, and most had already made up their minds about the two candidates or would do so based on media coverage, fundraising was much less meaningful. However, in smaller contests like, say, the NY19 Democratic primary, it can make all the difference. In fact, according to a 2014 analysis, the candidate who raises more money almost always wins when it comes to smaller races like this.

Delgado was the favorite coming into election day. This is in part because he was winning in every poll I’d seen, including those taken by other campaigns. He had also raised by far the most money of any NY19 candidate. Based on the reliability of those factors in predicting election winners, it was a pretty safe bet to predict he would win. Could someone have come from behind for an upset? Sure. The Collier poll, for instance, showed Rhodes in dead last, yet he came in second. This indicates that it probably over-surveyed liberal activists in Ulster and Dutchess, failing to take into account Rhodes’ strength in Delaware, Sullivan and Columbia. That kind of inaccuracy certainly left room for doubt. But the fact that several polls had shown Delgado up, combined with his superior fundraising, simply gave too many compelling data points to ignore. The fundamentals were consistently in his favor and they proved predictive.

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