How Competitive is NY18 Without Sean Maloney? | National | Hudson Valley | Hudson Valley; Chronogram
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How Competitive is NY18 Without Sean Maloney? 

The popular Hudson Valley congressman is running for state attorney general. With polls showing him running strong, it's worth asking what happens to his congressional race.

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One name that has been floated is actor Richard Gere, who would probably bring Maloney’s name recognition—and then some—and some semblance of his fundraising potential. However, considering the performances of celebrity candidates like Diane Neal and Cynthia Nixon this cycle, the local Democratic parties may be wary of going down that road. He's also a 69 year old white man which, in this political climate, is hardly an asset for a Democrat. His publicist has also said that rumors that he is interested in a run are "not true."

Other possible contenders are Orange County Legislator Jeff Berkman, veteran Patrick Davis, and Assemblyman James Skoufis, though he is running for State Senate and has said he will not stand down from that bid. One name that hasn’t been mentioned much is Wappingers Falls Mayor Matt Alexander who, like Maloney, is a gay man with a moderate streak, having been cross nominated on the Republican ticket several times in more than a decade in office. He previously ran for the seat in 2012, losing to Maloney. His background would bring the most continuity. (Full disclosure: I also worked for Alexander.)

However, with all their relative strengths, none of these folks have nearly as good a chance of winning as Maloney. While Maloney’s incumbency advantage shouldn’t be more than “the standard 2%,” according to election analyst Noah Rudnick, an election analyst for OH Predictive Insights, he does have a few individual electoral boosters. He is very charismatic, and is enormously popular in the district thanks to a combination of robust constituent services, bringing pork barrel spending to the district, and an adeptness at political theater. That’s in addition to his fundraising, which is robust even for an incumbent. All those things considered, Maloney probably has a larger built-in advantage than a standard incumbent.

The Opponent

The Republican nominee is James O’Donnell, who lacks both funds and name recognition relative to Maloney. Maloney dismisses him as a “nobody,” however, O’Donnell does have some creds that boost his candidacy. In addition to being a Lieutenant Colonel in the New York State Police, he served as an Orange County Legislator. In this cycle, a candidate with both law and order and elected experience is nothing to scoff at.

By contrast, Maloney’s opponent in 2016, Phil Oliva, was an unelected advisor for the Westchester County Executive. He had nowhere near the resume of O’Donnell. Moreover, O’Donnell has already raised $30,000 more at this point than Oliva raised in the entire campaign. We can also expect that, if Maloney steps aside, outside groups such as the NRCC and the Congressional Leadership Fund will give a newly competitive O’Donnell a cash infusion. This is a win the Republicans desperately need.

The Trumpiness factor

The 18th is an Obama-Trump district, having swung from voting for Obama by about 4 points in 2012 to voting for Trump by 2 points in 2016. There’s no reason to believe that trend has slowed, let alone reversed. Polls of several districts in upstate New York have shown that, despite a roughly 9 point Democratic advantage on the generic congressional ballot—coined the “blue wave“—Republicans are still strong in this particular region, which contains many of the rural and blue-collar voters that Trump strongly appealed to.

A poll by Siena Research—a reputable Albany-based polling firm—showed that John Faso, a particularly weak Republican incumbent from New York’s 19th district, is up 5 points over his Democratic challenger, Antonio Delgado. The 19th district, just north of the 18th, would be expected to vote about 5 points Republican in an even year. Considering that this is a heavily Democratic year, and Faso is a particularly embattled incumbent, it’s reasonable to think that areas like the Hudson Valley are at least somewhat immune to the blue wave. Polls in the 25th and 22nd districts, both in upstate New York, showed similar Republican strength relative to the national environment

There’s also the coattails factor. Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro is the Republican nominee for governor. Cuomo’s unpopularity in upstate New York, and Molinaro’s cross-partisan popularity in the Hudson Valley, may just serve to benefit down-ballot Republicans in the Hudson Valley like Faso and O’Donnell.

That said, an Obama-Trump district like NY18 might easily go for O’Donnell by a slim margin if Maloney is out. Rudnick notes that “it tilts blue of the nation,” in terms of recent down-ballot races, but concedes that “it's all about the Benjamins.” Essentially, Maloney’s money has been key to keeping the district in Democratic hands. Without that cash, it’s anyone’s game.

The Rating

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