NY 23rd Democratic Candidate: Blue-Dog or Activist?

This article was written by  Michael Fitzgerald and published in his “WRITE ON” weekly Finger Lakes Times column. You can email him at Michael.Fitzgeraldfltcolumnist@gmail.com and visit his website at michaeljfitzgerald.blogspot.com.

Incumbent GOP Congressman Tom Reed’s last two re-elections were relative walks-in-the-park for the one-time Corning mayor.

Part of his electoral success came because the vast 23rd Congressional District gives him a big edge of registered Republican voters versus Democrats.

But the wins also were reflective of the weakness of his Democratic opponents who were chosen as logical candidates based on conventional political wisdom. While they pulled in votes from their party constituencies, they weren’t able to convince enough voters to cross party lines to crack the GOP balloting bloc.

The clarity that comes with hindsight suggests that Reed’s 2014 Democratic opponent — Tompkins County Legislature Chair Martha Robertson — was doomed from the outset because of her strong political identification with Ithaca, one of a handful of arguably liberal/progressive islands in the generally conservative congressional district.

And Democrat John Plumb, a U.S. Navy veteran from conservative Lakewood who ran in 2016, never held elected office and lacked sufficient political experience and organization.

This political navel-gazing comes as Donald Trump hits the 100- days-in-office mark of his administration. While the nation digests what the president has done — or not done — many anti-Trump activists are organizing to retake the House of Representatives in the 2018 mid-term elections.

Tom Reed’s slavish devotion to Trump policies makes him an obvious target.

This spring Reed staunchly supported the hastily drawn GOP health care alternative to the 2010 federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. He kept that support even as the glaring shortcomings of the GOP plan became obvious and it collapsed so spectacularly.

He was hammered with questions at one town hall meeting after another, with constituents demanding specifics about how the GOP plan would be superior to the ACA. His answers were too vague to satisfy audiences.

But knocking this very well-financed congressman out of office will require a more creative strategy than relying on town hall- audience pique.

One might be to find a “blue dog ” Democrat to run.

The term comes from 1995 after some Southern Democrats in Congress formed a coalition following heavy Democratic losses to the GOP in the 1994 congressional races because they said they had been “choked blue” by their party’s liberal positions.

A blue dog Democratic candidate in New York would have to be socially and fiscally conservative enough to capture the votes of the growing number of Reed voters losing faith in his ability to represent their interests.

Former California Assembly Speaker Willie Brown — now a newspaper columnist in San Francisco — is touting the idea nationally.

“I know Blue Dogs may not vote at all times with the Democratic mainstream. But they’re a darn sight better than Republicans,” he wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle last week.

“Get enough of them and you have a Democratic majority, which means a Democratic speaker.”

Another roll-of-the-dice approach might be to look at Finger Lakes activists, people who are fiercely fighting for popular causes.

Even among just three groups — We Are Seneca Lake, the Finger Lakes Zero Waste Coalition and the Committee to Preserve the Finger Lakes — long rosters of potential candidates pop out who have demonstrated commitment to people, not profits.

Finger Lakes Times readers know the names like Peter Gamba, Katie Bennett Roll, Ken Camera, and Laura Salamendra — among many others.

Their dedication to a cause — or causes — has been routinely chronicled.

Could any of them best Tom Reed in a general election a year from November?

Who knows.

But conventional-wisdom candidates got left in the electoral dust in the last two outings.

Democrats need to quickly come up with some fresh candidates — whether “Blue Dogs” or activists — if they want any chance to wrest control of the House back from the GOP.

About pystew

Retired Teacher, political science geek, village trustee. I lean a little left, but like a good political discussion. My blog, the New NY 23rd (http://newny23rd) is about discussing the issues facing the people of our new congressional district. Let's hear all sides of the issues, not just what the candidates want us to hear.
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7 Responses to NY 23rd Democratic Candidate: Blue-Dog or Activist?

  1. ctb11365 says:

    I think I’ve commented on this issue in the past.

    John Plumb was not a great candidate, but he COULD have been a better candidate. As your Op-Ed states, he was inexperienced, with an inexperienced campaign staff too.

    What Cmdr. Plumb accomplished was to garner all the democrat’s votes, and at least a few progressive republican votes at well (I know two specific republican friends who voted for him). He also now has what ever name recognition could be achieved in one run for Congress.

    It seems to me that starting over from scratch will guarantee Reed yet another easy re-election. Perhaps we have no choice, but if Cmdr Plumb could be persuaded to run again, and to run earlier and stronger, AND if trump and reed become as unpopular in the district as we would like them to become, a candidate like Cmdr Plumb COULD WIN.

    In 2016, Reed ran especially well on trump’s coat-tails. I started seeing Reed yard signs in May, always in conjunction with Trump signs left in place after the primary. We in Seneca County did not get any Plumb signs till mid-July when I drove to Jamestown to pick up our allotted 200 signs.

    I want to work hard to elect Reed’s replacement!




  2. pystew says:

    The difference between 2016 and 2018 is that a group of 5 interested democrats (Cmdr Plumbs NOT being one of them) are getting ready to run. Expect at least one to announce in May. They will be around the district soon enough to be in the Fourth of July Parades this year and next year. If two or more stick it out through the winter months they will pass petitions in March and will race to win the June 2018 Primary. People should be able to recognize their names. Even though only one of the semi-announced candidates has ran political campaigns before, the Primary should be a good learning experience through out Seneca and the other 10 counties of the NY 23rd. Of course the ability to fund raise will be a factor who survives to the Primary.

    Fitzgerald brings up an important question–will the candidate be able to siphon off enough of those who voted from Trump (or against Hillary) to defeat Reed. The key, I feel, is to aim at the issues. Point out the Health Care Act that Reed supported. Look at the new proposal that might or might not get voted on. Look at the Tax Plan (Trump’s proposed one and the one they finally agree on) that is suppose to trickle jobs into Upstate. Point out how the budget’s deficit will be growing.

    The Democrats needs to spread their values out to the public. Having a primary, and challengers starting soon, there are many opportunities to get the Democratic message out.


  3. whungerford says:

    I don’t think Democrats are likely to succeed with a different candidate every two years–it isn’t the candidate as much as hard work. I agree that John Plumb was a good choice, if only he was able to make a strong multi-year effort. Nate and/or Martha might have won had they tried again. Tom Reed has mounted ruthless campaigns which turn his weaknesses into strength. In the absence of a revolt among Republicans, this won’t be easily overcome.


  4. whungerford says:

    Tom Reed avoids talking issues. His three campaigns have focused on disparaging his opponents (racist attacks on Nate Shinagawa, Martha an extreme Ithaca liberal, DC John, Tom a good old boy, one of us). This sort of low politics won’t be easily overcome.


  5. Maureen Harding says:

    No. Just no.


  6. Bob McGill says:

    Come on Willy, you’re an expert on LOW


  7. Ken Pitcher says:

    The only way the 23rd will dismiss Reed is if a Blue Dog runs. The 23rd is a rural low income and forgive me for saying so,but also a low information Fox news watching district.
    Folks have been unthinkingly pulling the R lever for generations and will continue to do so.
    In this past election cycle not one Democrat agent knocked on my door,not one.
    The candidates and there staff need to make an effort personally by going door to door to change minds. Holding a Democratic rally or meet and greet is only preaching to the choir and does nothing to swing votes.
    I hope and pray for a Democrat,but really do not see a path.


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