Almost 2,500 candidates ran in 600-plus midterm congressional primaries nationwide between March and September, with about 950 advancing to November’s general elections for 435 House seats.
However, none of them had a better primary day than Democratic Rep. Pat Ryan of New York, who won two elections on Aug. 23, becoming the newest member of Congress in one district while being nominated to run in the general election in another.
Ryan, the former Ulster County executive, is hoping that momentum carries into his race against Republican state Assemblyman Colin Schmitt (R-New Windsor) in the 18th Congressional District, one of three Hudson Valley districts now occupied by Democrats that the GOP hopes to flip in the party's midterm quest to retake a majority in the House.
Ryan topped two rivals to win the 18th District's Democratic primary to face Schmitt, who ran unopposed in his party's primary. The district currently is represented by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), who is running in the neighboring 17th District, rather than seeking reelection in the district that he’s served for five two-year terms.
But while Democrats in the 18th District on Aug. 23 were nominating Ryan to run for the congressional seat being vacated by Maloney, voters in the 19th District picked him to serve the final four months of Rep. Antonio Delgado’s (D-N.Y.) term. Delgado resigned in May to become lieutenant governor.
Ryan won that on Sept. 13 with a special election upset over Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, the GOP’s 2018 gubernatorial candidate, in a closely watched battle that buoyed Democrats’ hopes of blunting, if not reversing, a projected nationwide “red wave” that could deliver House and Senate majorities to the Republicans in 2023.
The current configurations of the three Hudson Valley districts—the 17th, 18th, and 19th districts—were reshaped in post-census redistricting that was delayed after court rulings nixed maps drawn by the state’s Democrat-controlled Assembly.
Democrats currently occupy 18 of New York's 27 congressional seats; however, the state lost one seat in post-2020 census reapportionment.
After lawmakers’ 26-district plan was rejected, maps refashioned by a judge-appointed special master were adopted in May, delaying congressional primaries to Aug. 23 from June 28.
The new maps return some Republican voters to several areas of New York, including the 18th and 19th districts, where Molinaro, off his special election loss in the “old” 19th, is favored to defeat Democrat Josh Riley, a former aide to longtime Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), in the “new” 19th on Nov. 8.
Issues in Contest
In his special election victory over the conservative Molinaro, Ryan campaigned heavily on abortion rights under the banner of “a woman’s right to reproductive freedom” in the wake of June’s U.S. Supreme Court repeal of Roe v. Wade. His platform is seen by Democrats nationwide as a roadmap to winning close races against ant-abortion Republicans this fall.
Ryan, a U.S. Army Iraq war veteran and West Point graduate who was elected Ulster County executive in 2019, is doubling down on that messaging in his campaign against Schmitt, using his advantage as one of the most active members in the House's “Pro Choice Caucus.”
He has signed onto the proposed Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH) Act, which would reverse the Hyde Amendment. On Sept. 22, he introduced his first proposal, "Protecting Reproductive Freedom Act," which would preempt state laws that prohibit women from accessing abortion medication through telehealth and require an annual congressional report, citing “additional ways to expand access to reproductive health care.”
“Extremist politicians are trying to ban abortion without exceptions. We are fighting back,” he said in a Twitter statement after filing the legislation. “You sent me here to do a job, protect fundamental freedoms. That’s exactly what I’m doing.”
Ryan’s campaign is touted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC)—headed by Maloney—as a way that party candidates can link abortion access to “the fight for freedom on multiple fronts” and that “radical” Republicans are making Americans “less safe” and “less free.”
In an Aug. 24 DCCC statement, Maloney said Schmitt “is not only wrong for New York, he’s dangerous” and “too radical to represent the Hudson Valley. While he pretends to be a moderate, his views and actions reveal the truth about his far-right extremism.”
Schmitt, a real estate agent who serves in the Army National Guard and was first elected to the state Assembly in 2018, isn't backing down from his pro-life stance or his record in opposing what he called “radical” 2019 abortion legislation adopted by New York lawmakers.
He applauded June’s Roe repeal because it kicked abortion regulation exclusively back to states and has repeatedly said he’s content to allow states and “their duly elected leaders" to regulate the procedure.
Schmitt insists that Ryan has “radical views rejected by the vast majority of New Yorkers” on abortion, claiming on Sept. 23 that his campaign has made more than “150,000 voter contacts” in the past month that indicated that inflation, public safety, and “securing the border” were higher priorities for local voters than abortion rights.
Schmitt has focused on the economy, crime, immigration, and “Hudson Valley values.”
After the Federal Reserve raised the benchmark federal funds rate by three-quarters of a percentage point for a third consecutive time this year on Sept. 21 to a range of 3 percent to 3.25 percent—the highest since 2008—Schmitt said Democrats are responsible for allowing inflation to “linger near a 40-year high” and “push the cost of financed homes, cars, and credit cards further up.”
“The failed Biden and Pelosi policies of trillions of dollars in wasteful spending which is fueling inflation continue to put us in this position,” he said in a Sept. 23 statement. “I am running for Congress to help restore America's economy and to end the disaster leadership in Washington that is crushing Hudson Valley families' wallets."
In late August, Schmitt toured the U.S.–Mexico border near El Paso, Texas, with fellow Republican Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) to get a first-hand look at the “security and humanitarian issues ongoing at the border that impacts the Hudson Valley due to the ongoing fentanyl crisis” and “migrant flights.”
“We have an ongoing national security and humanitarian crisis at our border. We need serious leadership in Washington, D.C., to turn the border situation around and regain control. Policy missteps from the Biden administration have exported this crisis to our own communities,” he said in a statement.
“While I will be a leader in Congress to secure our borders and combat the illegal immigration crisis, Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan has fueled the pull-factors driving it by making Ulster a sanctuary county. With illegal entries and the flow of fentanyl at historic highs, this is an issue that’s affecting every one of our communities.”
As of Sept. 24, no debates between Ryan and Schmitt have been announced by their campaigns, in what is projected to be a close and costly race.
The Cook Political Report rates the 18th District as a slight D+1 “lean Democratic” district and the Ryan–Schmitt race a “tossup.” Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball gives the district a “leans Democratic” rating, while FiveThirtyEight on Sept. 23 elevated Ryan’s odds of winning from 62.5 percent to 68.5 percent.
Ryan’s campaign reported in its Aug. 3 Federal Elections Commission (FEC) filing—before the special election but the latest on record—raising $1.582 million, spending $1.266 million, and having $316,522 in cash on hand.
Schmitt’s campaign reported in its Aug. 3 FEC filing that it has raised $1.388 million, spent $739,770, and has $648,722 in cash on hand.