Liberal Column

CNY political climate reflects presidential election

/ The Daily Orange

As Donald Trump’s campaign has fallen to pieces in the past few weeks, Democrats and Republicans alike have turned their attention to the Senate and House races that will determine which party controls the legislative branch.

One such House race that Democrats hoped to win in their efforts to take back Congress is New York’s 24th Congressional District, which comprises all of Onondaga, Cayuga and Wayne counties and parts of Oswego County. Here, Syracuse University alumnus and incumbent Rep. John Katko, (R-N.Y.), is facing off against Democrat Colleen Deacon, an SU alumna and former regional director for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

However, despite Democrat’s hopes in the district, recent Siena College polling shows Katko leading the race by more than 20 percent. This is contrasted by the fact Hillary Clinton leads Trump in the district by 10 percent according to another poll by Siena College. The question that this leads to is why a district that is one of the most moderate in the country supports Katko, a Republican, by such a wide margin, while Hillary Clinton, a Democrat, is beating Donald Trump with the same voters.

Voter representation plays a key part

While Trump goes on television every day spouting his absurd right-wing rhetoric, Katko is one of the more moderate members of the House of Representatives based on his voting record, according to govtrack. Independent and conservative voters in this district who are not afraid to split tickets see Katko as much more representative of their interests than Trump.

Another explanation is Katko’s fundraising

Katko has outpaced Deacon in terms of individual contributions, with $1 million to Deacon’s $923,000 raised, according to the Federal Election Commission. This disparity in fundraising is even more significant when you look at donations from organized groups. Katko has received more than four times as much funding from political action committees as Deacon, with more than $1.2 million to her less than $300,000.

In response to questions on this fundraising, Katko said in an email, “I am incredibly grateful for the outpouring of support that we have received. I am committed to being an independent voice for CNY in Congress, voting for what’s right for my constituents and our community.”

Maintaining this obligation to voters while receiving money from outside groups remains a challenge for all politicians, who struggle to remain authentic while funding their complex campaign operations. Overall, Deacon is simply being blown out of the water in terms of campaign funding.

Katko’s superior fundraising means money for campaign events, TV ads and direct-mail fliers. With more than 600,000 residents in the district, it’s impossible to personally reach out to all of them and media is the most effective way to make that necessary connection. Deacon simply can’t reach out to voters she needs to make herself known and to explain her platform and ideas.

The last reason for success is simply name recognition

Katko already holds the office both candidates are running for, giving him a leg up from the start. Meanwhile, Deacon is still unknown by 32 percent of voters in the district, according to the original Siena poll. When a third of your would-be constituents don’t even know who you are, let alone agree with your policies, it’s going to be an uphill battle.

This year’s presidential race is distinct in that both major candidates were well known for decades before running for office. While candidates like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the Democratic primary and Gary Johnson and Jill Stein in the general election have struggled to have their voices heard by the masses, both Clinton and Trump have dominated the airwaves and newspapers for the entire race.

Overall, Katko has benefited from a multitude of factors during this race, from better fundraising, to incumbency, to a relatively high favorability rating. None of these factors are benefiting Trump, who has had mediocre fundraising at best, holds no office and has much lower favorability ratings than Clinton.

This comparison between this congressional and presidential election in some ways serves as a microcosm of the country as a whole. In cities like Syracuse with large populations of both college-age and low-income voters, Democrats are able to get their message across. But the large rural areas that surround these Democratic strongholds shift the balance toward more conservative principles and candidates.

Democrats have struggled mightily on down-ballot races in recent years, and even in the age of the alt-right, it will be a challenge to regain a majority in the Senate and House. Taking cues from Clinton’s success, the party must work to address these weaknesses through better fundraising and voter mobilization as well as recruiting stronger candidates for these important elected positions. Only then will Democrats wield the congressional majorities they desperately desire.

Cole Jermyn is a sophomore environmental resource engineering major and economics minor at SUNY-ESF. He can be reached at cdjermyn@syr.edu and followed on Twitter @Cjermyn8.

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