Democrats are eager to prove that they still have recruiting momentum after their dispiriting loss in Georgia, and they got some good news this week when their top choice in Upstate New York's 22nd CD, Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, announced he will challenge freshman GOP Rep. Claudia Tenney. President Trump won the district with 54 percent last fall, but the polarizing Tenney failed to crack 47 percent.
Tenney's unique vulnerability stems from her bad blood with moderate Republicans in the Utica-based seat. In 2014, Tenney nearly defeated liberal GOP Rep. Richard Hanna in a primary with support from Tea Party groups. In 2016 after he announced his retirement, Hanna became the only GOP member of Congress to endorse Hillary Clinton and he pointedly refused to endorse Tenney after she won a bitter primary for his seat.
Earlier this year Hanna sparked rumors that he would challenge Tenney for his old seat as an independent, but Brindisi's entry makes that much less likely. There's little question Hanna would like to see Tenney defeated, and she may have benefited from split opposition in 2016, when wealthy independent Martin Babinec took 12 percent of the vote and Democrat Kim Myers took 41 percent.
Brindisi, 38, has a good profile for this working-class, substantially Italian seat. Born and raised in Utica - where Trump saw a huge surge last fall - Brindisi served on the Utica school board before winning his Assembly seat in 2011. He sports an "A" rating from the NRA, which should help him break from his national party's image, even though it could make a primary against SUNY-Binghamton computer scientist Patrick Madden a bit trickier.
Albany legislators haven't had the greatest track record of getting to Congress lately, and Tenney calls Brindisi a "slick politician" and a lackey for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is likely less popular than Trump here. But Tenney served in the Assembly too, and she remains an awkward fit for a district that previously elected a long line of moderates on both sides. Add in the potential for a wave, and this race moves from Likely Republican to Lean Republican.
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