New York’s Democrats Bet on Moderates Over Leftists to Fight GOP

(Bloomberg) -- New York Democrats will field a slate of moderate candidates in critical congressional districts in November, boosting their chances of winning back the House majority despite deep divisions within the party.

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It’s a purposeful about-face for a party still reeling from a disastrous 2022 Republican sweep of swing districts that helped hand the House to the GOP.

The party’s statewide strategy this year has been to pitch itself as moderate, incremental and pragmatic, while depicting its GOP foes as extremist acolytes of former president and Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump.

Polls show more and more Americans — as many as a third — identify themselves as independents and don’t typically lean to either ultra-liberal or ultra-conservative views on most issues.

New York is a solidly Democratic state, but voters outside of New York City tend to be more moderate on social and economic issues than the party’s progressive wing.

The 2022 election served as a “wake-up call for a lot of Democrats,” said Evan Stavisky, president of the Parkside Group, a Democratic political consulting firm in New York.

The primary victories Tuesday of centrists John Avlon and John Mannion in two New York swing districts give Democrats a plausible chance to pick up those House seats.

George Latimer bested embattled Representative Jamaal Bowman in the most expensive primary in US House history, virtually ensuring that seat remains in Democratic hands.

Heavy Investments

Latimer was bolstered by a flood of money from pro-Israel interests such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, as well as well-known, wealthy individuals including Lloyd Blankfein, Boaz Weinstein, Lisa Blau, Blair Effron, David Einhorn, Bennett Goodman, Dan Loeb and Dan Och.

Avlon, a former CNN political analyst and journalist, has racked up a string of boldface donors since entering the race in February — actor Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, and investor and venture capitalist Alan Patricof each held fundraisers for him the weekend before the primary.

Major names in media, finance and tech have also contributed to his campaign, including documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, former Google Chief Executive Officer Eric Schmidt, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, former news anchor Connie Chung and National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver.

Democrats need to win only a handful of House races to reclaim the House majority, and the big-name donors underscore how critical these races are on a national level.

It’s a strategy, however, that carries some risk of alienating the party’s frustrated left flank in an election where turnout will be key.

Progressive voters are already disenchanted by Joe Biden’s support for Israel as the country retaliates against Hamas after the militant group’s Oct. 7 attack on the Jewish state. They are also concerned about the 81-year-old president’s age and commitment to left-wing priorities.

Most Viable Choices

On eastern Long Island in New York’s 1st Congressional District, Avlon won the Democratic contest to take on freshman GOP Representative Nick LaLota in an area Trump carried by less than 2 percentage points in 2020.

Avlon sold himself as a centrist much like Tom Suozzi, the Democrat who won a special US House election in February for the Long Island seat vacated by former GOP Representative George Santos after his expulsion from the House late last year.

Suozzi showed how “playing offense on the issues people care about and seizing the center matters,” Avlon said.

In the Syracuse-area 22nd Congressional District, Mannion will face off against freshman Brandon Williams, perhaps the most vulnerable incumbent Republican in the country. The district was redrawn to include areas Biden won in 2020 by nearly 12 percentage points.

Mannion, a state senator and former teacher and union leader, was the establishment candidate in the primary race and backed by the Democratic Party of Onondaga County, the district’s largest county. He was to the right of his opponent, Sarah Klee Hood, on abortion and health care.

Mannion was hit in the final days of the primary by allegations of creating a toxic work environment. He has denied those allegations, which are under investigation.

Further downstate in New York’s 16th district, Latimer, the Westchester County executive, beat one of the most left-leaning members of Congress in the Democratic district.

Bowman’s response to the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas and the ongoing conflict that followed fueled critics and concern in his district, which is one of the most heavily Jewish in the US.

On the campaign trail, Latimer ripped Bowman for calling for an end to US military aid to Israel and referring to its retaliatory bombardment of Hamas-run Gaza as genocide. Hamas is labeled a terrorist group by the US and European Union.

November Battlegrounds

Former Democratic Representative Mondaire Jones, meanwhile, is already set to face off against another Republican freshman, Mike Lawler, in a competitive race for an area Biden won by 10 percentage points in 2020.

Jones, who wasn’t contested in the primary, is making his own appeal to the middle as he seeks reelection in New York’s 17th Congressional District, which includes Rockland and Putnam counties and portions of Westchester and Dutchess counties.

Jones, one of few openly gay Black men to serve in Congress, won the seat in 2020 before its lines were redrawn in 2022. He made an unsuccessful bid that year in a newly created lower Manhattan district.

Regarded previously as a progressive, Jones shocked liberals when he endorsed Latimer over Bowman in the final weeks before the NY-16 primary.

That cost him the endorsement of liberal groups and progressive lawmakers, but it could help win the election and flip the House into Democrats’ hands.

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