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

This article was written by  Michael Fitzgerald and published in his “WRITE ON” weekly Finger Lakes Times column. You can email him at [email protected] 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.

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