KINGSTON, N.Y. (AP) — A college professor who launched a liberal challenge to New York’s governor faces a former Republican lawmaker who has been a sharp-tongued critic of liberal policies in a marquee congressional battle for an open seat north of New York City.
Democrat Zephyr Teachout and Republican John Faso differ ideologically but share an ability to fight hard and raise money. Both parties expect an expensive battle for the upstate seat opening with the retirement of Republican Rep. Chris Gibson.
The race playing out among small cities and rural towns of the 19th Congressional District is among a handful in the state that loom large as House Democrats try to trim the Republicans’ 247-188 majority this year. Democrats believe a Hillary Clinton-versus-Donald Trump matchup at the top of the ticket will help them in swing districts and are already using Trump as a cudgel against GOP incumbents in some of those New York districts.
Teachout, 44, is a Fordham University law professor who capitalized on liberal disenchantment with Cuomo in a surprisingly strong 2014 primary challenge to his re-election bid. She moved to the district after losing the Democratic primary. She is now on unpaid leave from the university. She has written about political corruption as an academic and has fought for campaign finance reform as an activist. Teachout is a veteran of Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign.
Faso, 63, served in the state Assembly for 16 years and became the House’s minority leader, a position that offered him a public platform to challenge Democratic policies until he left in 2002. He ran unsuccessfully for state comptroller in 2002 and governor in 2006.
They are fighting for a district that encompasses a scenic stretch of the Hudson Valley, blue-collar river cities, liberal havens like Woodstock and a chunk of New York’s farm belt.
“Most of the residents around here, I think, are pro-constitution, pro-guns,” said Steve Crapser as he stocked a hardware store shelf. “That’s a big issue around here. There are a lot of hunters.”
Crapser thinks Faso could do a good job, an opinion not readily apparent across the district on the streets of Kingston. The gritty Hudson River is in a more Democrat-rich part of the district, and voters like David Boyd, a Democrat who voted for Gibson, said he intends to vote for Teachout in November.
“I don’t much about her, to be honest with you, but I’d rather go Democrat because of the way Donald Trump is talking,” Boyd said outside a post office. “The Republicans right now, I’m a little scared of.”
Here’s a look at some other swing districts in New York:
— A race for a second open seat in upstate New York features a tea party champion running in a district that Mitt Romney carried by less than a percentage point in 2012. Republican Claudia Tenney, a state Assemblywoman, unsuccessfully challenged Rep. Richard Hanna from the right two years ago. With Hanna retiring, she rode her conservative insurgent credentials to a win a primary against two Republicans with party backing last month. She now faces Democrat Kim Myers, a county legislator and daughter of the founder of Dick’s Clothing and Sporting Goods.
A wild card in the race is Reform Party candidate Martin Babinec, who is running on a third-party line usually taken by Republicans.
— In the Syracuse area, Republican Rep. John Katko is seeking a second term in a district that has flipped between parties over the last several election cycles. National Democrats see a chance for a pickup with candidate Colleen Deacon, a former aide to Sen. Kirsten Gillbrand. Katko, a former federal prosecutor, has been among the House Republicans targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in ads tying the House GOP to Trump. Katko has held off on endorsing Trump.
— On Long Island, first-term Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin has endorsed Trump, who dominated locally in the GOP presidential primary. Zeldin, an Army Iraq veteran, is a top target for Democrats two years after he unseated a six-term Democrat. Former Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst eked out a win in a primary for the Democratic line.
— Republicans see an opportunity for a pickup in the Democrat-leaning district being vacated by Long Island Democratic Rep. Steve Israel. Republican Jack Martins, a state senator since 2011, will run against Democrat Thomas Suozzi, who is seeking a political comeback after being defeated for re-election as Nassau County executive in 2009.
In another potentially competitive district, the House Majority PAC, a Democratic super PAC, has committed about $240,000 to media buys in a sprawling district upstate along the Pennsylvania border where Democrat John Plumb is challenging Republican Rep. Tom Reed. Plumb is a Navy veteran and former Department of Defense official.
Associated Press writer Frank Eltman contributed from Manhasset, New York.