Full disclosure after eating crow. Boy, was I ever wrong about the results in the NY23 Republican primary. I thought that MAGA bombast would trump political organization.
There is some small consolation in knowing that a whole lot of other political participants and observers also got it wrong. It was close, but our projections were way off.
My long-time friend Len Lenihan got it right. He told me three weeks ago that Nick Langworthy’s organizational skills and support from other party leaders would lead to a win.
Pollster Barry Zeplowitz nailed it with the poll he published a couple weeks ago saying that Langworthy was ahead by two points. Carl Paladino criticized the poll as faulty because Zeplowitz had donated $99 to Langworthy.
In early July Paladino and company claimed that they had an internal poll showing him ahead by 30 points. They never published the poll, so who knows what it may have shown or if its methodology was faulty. Regardless, it seems that they used that poll to guide their strategy of coasting and running out the clock.
The conventional wisdom of many politicos was that in the August primary election, the second primary of the year, with in many cases nothing on the ballot but one race, the turnout would be very low. The second primary’s turnout was actually pretty good.
Across the entire seven counties of the district the turnout was 24 percent. It was above twenty percent in each one of those counties. In Erie County, home to more than 40 percent of the district’s voters, the turnout was slightly more than 24 percent.
Paladino carried the Erie County portion of the district by a 66/34 percent margin. However, he lost all six of the other counties, some of them by more than a two-to-one margin.
This all happened because Langworthy outhustled Paladino in those six counties. He took advantage of his long-established connections with party leaders in those counties, leaders who produced the votes for him. Voters in the rural counties were not inclined to overlook Paladino’s history of operating in the public arena, as highlighted in the TV and radio ads attacking him, ads that were financed by the shadowy Liberty Action PAC.
Paladino’s large margin in Erie County kept the election close. The 12,765 Republicans who voted for him were apparently prepared to accept the racist comments, the Hitler adoration, and the thought that it’s okay to joke about executing the Attorney General.
Paladino did much better locally when he ran in the Republican primary for governor in 2010. In that year he carried Erie County by a 93 to 7 percent margin. Throughout what is now the new 23rd congressional district he won 81 percent of the Republican primary vote that year. “Carl’s Country” was a lot less enthusiastic about him in 2022.
Langworthy, while not admitting to it, was the “establishment” candidate in the race. Paladino proudly identified himself as a renegade prepared to turn over the tables if he was elected. A Chemung County legislator told Politico “It would have been a disaster if Carl Paladino would have been the nominee.”
Paladino’s loss is a loss shared by others. The third ranking House Republican, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik from a district north of Albany, actively supported Paladino with petitioners and campaign staff. Stefanik is part of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s leadership team, so Paladino’s loss also makes it a loss for McCarthy.
Paladino was also endorsed by Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene and Congressman Matt Gaetz, both card-carrying members of the Republican crazy caucus. Their ranks will not be growing with a win in New York.
There is still a general election to run, and the Democrats have an excellent candidate in Air Force veteran and attorney Max Della Pia. Della Pia was a candidate for the remainder of the term of former NY23 Congressman Tom Reed. Max performed well in that contest, coming much closer to a win than party expectations projected. He will hold his own in debates with Langworthy and represent the Democratic Party very well in a district that is among the most Republican in the state. Nick has already agreed to holding debates.
Interesting historic footnote: a previous version of the new 23rd congressional district was the old 39th district in the 1960’s. There was a Republican primary for the seat in 1966 that included the former right-wing Republican incumbent, John Pillion, and an establishment Republican endorsed by the party — Kenneth McIlraith. The Erie County Republican Chairman at the time, Ray Lawley, promised to resign if McIlraith did not win the primary. Pillion won but Lawley was talked into staying as chairman by party leaders. In November of that year voters re-elected Democrat Max McCarthy, even though Republicans nationally did well in races for the House. The bumper stickers back then simply said, “I’m for Max.” This year’s Max will make the race in NY23 very interesting.
Della Pia’s strong showing, plus the win by Pat Ryan in the NY19 special election which most observers expected to flip Republican, shows that the Democratic Party has regained strength as we get closer to November. Langworthy himself told Politico “Democrats have more wind in their sails here the last several months — they are organizing, raising a lot of funds after the Roe decision was overturned.” The legislative accomplishments in Congress; Democratic voting interest boosted by the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling; plus Trump’s legal troubles are lowering Republican exuberance and giving Democrats encouragement that the mid-terms can turn out better than was expected earlier this year.
Follow me on Twitter @kenkruly