As political parties pick up the pace of recruiting candidates ahead of next year's congressional elections, Democrats are searching for a candidate in NY's 24th Congressional District to challenge what they see as a vulnerable incumbent.
Considered one of only 10 Tossup districts in the country by the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report /Roll Call, both parties have made winning the seat a top priority. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has targeted first-term Rep. John Katko on its “One-Term Wonders ” list of Republican freshmen, and the National Republican Congressional Committee placed Katko in the party’s Patriot Program , which is meant to protect its most at-risk incumbents.
The seat represents a strong pickup opportunity for Democrats, given the likelihood of former New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton at the top of the ticket and the fact that President Barack Obama won the district twice. It's one of the few opportunities Democrats have to to cut into the GOP’s 30-seat majority in the House.
But it could be an opportunity missed if Democrats can't find a winning candidate.
So far the only likely Democratic candidate is Syracuse professor Eric Kingson, who made a name advocating for the protection and expansion of Social Security. While he hasn't yet officially announced his intentions, he told CQ Roll Call he would “in all likelihood” file papers by the middle of July. While Kingson said he hopes his support for Social Security will allow him to make inroads with older voters and other groups, operatives on both sides said he might be too liberal for the district.
Democrats recruited two-term Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, who they thought would have been a strong candidate given her popularity and name recognition, but she announced in May that she would not challenge Katko.
While operatives say there is still plenty of time for candidates to jump into the race, the next Federal Election Commission reporting period runs from July 1 through Sept. 30, and Democratic candidates may want to declare soon to raise as much money as possible before the quarter ends as a measure of their viability and popularity heading into the election year.
The 24th District is relatively inexpensive in which to compete compared to other media markets in New York, but given the high profile of the matchup and early indications of investment by the national parties, there is a good chance the district will see a flood of spending during the cycle. In Katko's 2014 campaign against Democratic incumbent Rep. Dan Maffei, the national parties each spent more than $2 million, according to Syracuse.com .
“[Katko] not only faces a math problem in this district but an even bigger trust deficit with voters. Central New Yorkers have had enough of Katko’s repeated failures to lead, and we expect they’ll send him packing in 2016,” DCCC spokesman Jeb Fain wrote in an email.
In addition to the national parties, Democratic pro-choice fundraising organization EMILY’s List has targeted the district, putting Katko on its “On Notice ” list of top GOP targets for the 2016 cycle. The organization is also recruiting candidates in the district, a Democratic source said.
“Representative Katko has consistently prioritized policies that are dangerous to New York women and families,” Rachel Thomas, press secretary for EMILY’s List, wrote in an email. “EMILY’s List has made this seat a top target and is excited about the prospect of having a strong woman candidate unseat Representative Katko in 2016.”
However, Katko may be less vulnerable than he seems. By many metrics a moderate Republican, Katko has only voted with his party 78 percent of the time compared to an average of 92.5 for his fellow Republicans, according to CQ’s Vote Watch, and was also one of only three Republicans in the House to split with his party and vote not to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
The region was represented for 20 years by former Rep. James Walsh, R-N.Y., before swapping hands between parties in each of the past four elections.