Morning Digest: New York Democrats land top-tier challenger to GOP Rep. Claudia Tenney

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The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, and Carolyn Fiddler, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, and David Beard.

Leading Off

NY-22: On Tuesday, Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi became the second Democrat to join the race against first-term Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney in this upstate New York seat, which contains Utica and Binghamton. Brindisi has represented Utica in New York’s Assembly since a 2011 special election victory, and he is reportedly the strong preference of both state and national Democrats.

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The assemblyman is known as a moderate, which could prove to be a key asset with swing voters in this historically Republican region. However, his “A” rating from the NRA is unlikely to please progressive Democratic primary voters, but so far Brindisi only faces little-known SUNY Binghamton computer science professor Patrick Madden in the primary, whose campaign has yet to gain traction.

Obama lost New York’s 22nd Congressional District by mere fractions of a percentage point in both 2012 and 2008, but this disproportionately white working-class seat veered rightward to a 55-39 Trump win. However, Tenney prevailed just 46-41 in a heavily contested three-way race last year that featured a self-funding independent who pledged to caucus with the GOP.

Brindisi sits in one of the reddest Assembly seats held by a Democrat, and his district moved further to the right last year, lunging from 51-47 Obama to 54-41 Trump in 2016. However, he’s nonetheless won re-election unopposed every year since 2012, suggesting his crossover appeal has helped deter strong GOP challengers. The 22nd will likely be a tough seat for Democrats to flip, but Tenney’s hard-right image and her support for Trumpcare could give Team Blue an opening.

One major wildcard for 2018, though, is wealthy former Rep. Richard Hanna. As one of the least-conservative House Republicans, Hanna nearly lost the 2014 to primary to Tenney and avoided what would have been a tough rematch by retiring last year. Hanna recently said he was considering challenging his successor as an independent next year, which could help Democrats by stealing away center-right voters from Tenney—something that appears to have happened in 2016 when Martin Babinec took 12 percent of the vote as an independent. However, after Hanna endorsed Hillary Clinton, he might just as easily take more from Democratic voters if he runs, but there’s no indication of how likely he is to get in.