The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Trailer: In New York, a top House Democrat relishes a chance to beat his party’s left wing

In this edition: How President Biden's wins are impacting Democratic primaries, what you should watch in tonight's elections, and how to interpret the special election result in Minnesota. 

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YORKTOWN HEIGHTS, N.Y. — Another Democratic voter had answered the door, eager to talk with state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (D) about her campaign against a sitting Democratic member of Congress, and how happy he was with Democrats in Washington.

“Finally, the Democrats are doing an awesome job,” said Christi Adams, 65.

“I agree!” said Biaggi, 36.

“Biden’s doing an awesome job,” Adams added.

“I one hundred percent agree with you,” said Biaggi. “What they’re doing now, they should be doing always.”

New York’s chaotic Aug. 23 primaries, delayed and reshuffled after a court threw out maps drawn by Democrats, are coming at a potentially opportune moment for some in the party’s establishment wing — and for Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, who Biaggi is running against next Tuesday. 

The revival of the party’s climate and drug-pricing legislation has perked up some Democratic voters. Panic about crime and how Republicans run on that issue have made those same voters nervous about the party’s left wing. Four years after Biaggi helped Democrats take back the state Senate, one year after ex-Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo resigned in disgrace, the race in New York’s 17th Congressional District has seen Maloney scoop up endorsements, as he relishes a chance to beat his party’s left wing.

“There’s been a huge, huge change in the mood of Democrats,” Maloney, 56, said in an interview after a house party on the other side of the suburban district. “It really undercuts the rationale of my challenger, who’s arguing that the problem is the Democrats. My argument is that we need to come together as Democrats and get things done and keep dangerous Republicans from taking back the House.”

The race between Maloney and Biaggi started late, and bitterly. On April 27, the state’s highest court tossed out new congressional maps that Democrats in Albany had drawn to create an advantage for the party. 

On May 16, with the court set to approve a different map, Maloney announced that instead of seeking reelection in his 18th Congressional District he’d run in the new 17th District, which included his Cold Spring home — and where Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), who made history as one of the two first openly gay Black members of Congress, was finishing his first term. 

“His job is to maximize the number of seats for Democrats,” Biaggi said in an interview. “The majority literally runs through New York and California. And he’s sacrificing the seat.”

After finger-pointing and fury, Jones moved out of the district to seek a safe seat in New York City; Ulster County executive Pat Ryan, who’s running in a special election for the expiring 19th Congressional District, is the likely Democratic nominee in the new 18th District. 

But Biaggi, who had been running in a different seat demolished by the court, quickly announced a campaign against Maloney. First, she wanted members of Congress to “actually be champions for our rights, and not water down things.” Second, Maloney had pushed Jones out of a district that was proud to have elected him.

“What he did embodies everything I stand against,” Biaggi said of Maloney. “It felt very self-serving. It represents the politics of the past — or at least, something that some of us are trying to make the politics of the past.” 

The switcheroo set up the sort of campaign New York Democrats have become familiar with recently, between a well-funded party leader and a challenger calling him an impediment to real change. Biaggi and other liberal legislators had passed dozens of bills previously blocked by Republicans, from bail reform to marijuana legalization to new anti-harassment rules. 

Maloney was part of a majority that, as of late May, seemed destined to disappoint Democrats; as DCCC chairman, he’d left his competitive seat for a safer one, and approved a $450,000 ad buy in Michigan to help a 2020 election denier win a Republican primary — part of a bet that the candidate would be easier for Democrats to defeat in November. 

“I’m really upset with them spending all that money on MAGA candidates,” said Shari Maurer, 55, the leader of the gun control group Moms Demand Action in Rockland County. Nine gun laws blocked by the GOP-led Senate were passed after Biaggi and the other Senate Democrats took power, and Biaggi had impressed her by showing up at an abortion rights rally and asking for donations to abortion funds, not her campaign. 

“I’m just very disappointed that Maloney ran in our district,” said Maurer.

Other Democrats were happier about their choices, eager to support Maloney, and skeptical that Biaggi could win. Redistricting made Maloney’s old seat slightly bluer, while adding Rockland County to the new 17th District it made it more competitive; President Biden won it by 10 points, after winning inside the old lines by 20 points. 

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) endorsed Biaggi, raising money for her campaign. But nearly every prominent Democrat in the region got behind Maloney, from the chair of each county Democratic Party to Bill Clinton, whose Chappaqua home is in one of the bluest parts of the district.

“We can’t really afford to be attacking the Democrat leading the charge right now,” said John Gromada, 58, the chairman of the Rockland County Democratic Party. One problem for Biaggi, he said, was that she was building name recognition in a place she hadn’t represented before. 

A bigger, seemingly unsolvable problem was tweets Biaggi had sent in 2020, endorsing the idea of “defunding” police, who she called “soulless.” She’d walked that back, but Democrats, nervous about the crime-centered campaigns Republicans were running across the state, said that the quotes made her especially vulnerable. 

“We have a lot of retired law enforcement here, and the criminal justice attacks have really landed in our county,” said Gromada. “I think that's going to be really difficult for her to live down those tweets. And I'm sad about it. I’m sad that that message was put across that way.”

For Maloney, the chance to distance Democrats from the “defund” slogan was irresistible. “It's naive to believe that someone who says the police have no souls,” he said, “is going to win in this competitive district.”

Biaggi’s opponents have jumped at the chance to beat her; the Police Benevolent Association’s PAC put $400,000 into ads against her, with PBA President Patrick J. Lynch calling her a “privileged New York City radical” who “wants a national platform from which to spread her extreme ideology.” 

The senator asked why Maloney wouldn’t condemn “election interference from pro-Trump organizations” — the PBA endorsed Donald Trump in 2020 — while Republicans said that they could wield the crime issue against either Democrat in November. Maloney had opposed cash bail for years, and GOP candidates up and down the ballot were blaming the state’s bail reforms, every day, for increased crime.

“Biaggi is more outwardly progressive, if you will, in both substance and tone,” said state Assemblyman Mike Lawler, the likely GOP nominee in the district. “But he’s not that far off. When you’re running the party committee and your job is to reelect people like AOC and Ilhan Omar, and you vote with Biden and Pelosi 100% of the time, you can’t say you’re a centrist.”

Maloney wasn’t calling himself a centrist — and he certainly wasn’t defending Ocasio-Cortez. In an interview on Saturday, after he celebrated an endorsement from the New York Times, Maloney said he couldn’t “think of a single race where AOC endorsed where the candidate won.” If he won the primary, he said, it would say far more about where their party stood.

“The socialist wing of the Democratic Party is losing all the races, whether you're talking about New York City's mayoral primary or ballot initiatives in Minneapolis or San Francisco,” said Maloney. “What Democrats want right now are people who are willing to work with people to get things done. They don't want a revolution and they don't want ideological purity and they don't want a bunch of people lecturing them on Twitter.”

In the race’s final days, Maloney has talked little about the party’s left, and more about the record in Washington. At a Saturday rally in Peekskill, flanked by union leaders who’d endorsed him, Maloney ticked off some of the most popular items House Democrats had delivered in the Inflation Reduction Act and last year’s infrastructure bill, from “a hundred thousand charging stations for electric vehicles” to “a hundred thousand Davis-Bacon union jobs” to money that had already flowed back into the district. 

“There’s some good things going on — you might not know it, if you watch the news,” said Maloney. “I don’t know about you, but I kind of feel like President Biden’s getting a bad rap! I know it’s funny to run the guy down, but the truth is, he’s got a hell of a record for a guy who’s getting so much grief.”

Reading list

“Biden, trying to tout his policies, faces a familiar intruder: Trump,” by Matt Viser

Why Democrats are sick of their news cycles getting hijacked.

“MAGA fanatics have a new enemy: ‘TINOs’ — Trump In Name Only,” by Kara Voght

One party, two county conventions.

“Election deniers march toward power in key 2024 battlegrounds,” by Amy Gardner

A definitive look at the conspiracy theorists winning key primaries.

“Doug Mastriano plans to use his Secretary of State pick to disrupt Pennsylvania elections,” by Jake Blumgart

How a Stop the Steal candidate for governor could upturn voting in a swing state.

“Liz Cheney’s primary is all about Donald Trump — except in Wyoming,” by Ben Jacobs

The battle for Cheyenne.

“Rep. Ilhan Omar survives close primary after campaign focused on policing,” by David Weigel

A near-disaster for the left in Minneapolis.

What to watch

One of the defining stories of the midterms reaches its conclusion today: Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) appear on the ballot for the first time since they voted, respectively, to impeach Trump and to remove him from office.

Polls close in Wyoming at 7 p.m. local time, or 9 p.m. eastern, and both Democrats and Republicans now expect attorney Harriet Hageman to easily defeat Cheney and become the GOP nominee for the state’s sole House seat.

Despite the resonance of the Cheney family name — and for some libertarian-minded Republicans, because of it — the three-term Republican has always faced some resistance from primary voters. Just over 90,000 voters turned out in the 2016 primary, when she first captured the nomination with 39 percent of the vote. In the higher turnout of 2018 and 2020, Cheney won clear majorities — 64 percent, then 74 percent. 

She’ll likely have a different coalition in this race, as voters can register as late as election day, and Democrats and independents who have no competitive candidates in November can vote in the GOP primary. That could play a role down-ballot, where some conservative members of the state House are running for state Senate, in a bid to increase the clout of the Freedom Caucus in Cheyenne.

Polls close in Alaska at 8 p.m., or midnight on the east coast — not that it matters for results. This is the first year the state will use its new ranked-choice voting system, and final totals from the special House election won’t be final until Aug. 31. Republicans Sarah Palin and Nick Begich share the ballot with Democrat Mary Peltola, and polls, which have a complicated (read: lousy) record in Alaska, have tended to find an advantage for Begich. If Peltola is eliminated in the first count, Begich runs ahead of Palin; if Palin is eliminated, Begich leads Peltola. 

All three candidates are also on the primary ballot for a full House term, along with 19 other candidates — mostly independents and third-party hopefuls, but also Tara Sweeney, a former GOP official at the Department of the Interior who missed the cutoff for the special election. You want those results? You’ll have to wait, just like you’ll have to wait for answers in the U.S. Senate primary.

Meanwhile, Murkowski, whose pro-abortion rights votes have often set her against her party leaders, has minimal opposition on her left in the all-party primary — ex-Seward Mayor Edgar Blatchford, a Democrat, is running his umpteenth race for higher office, but the state Democratic Party has endorsed Patricia Chesbro, who’s centered abortion rights in her campaign. 

Trump administration veteran Kelly Tshibaka, who’s endorsed by the former president, is the only significant GOP challenger to Murkowski, and has told reporters she hopes to place first to build momentum for November, when the top four finishers will face off again.

The race for governor has another test of conservative purity, with Gov. Mike Dunleavy seeking a second term and two challengers arguing that he didn’t do enough to resist pandemic mitigation measures: state Rep. Christopher Kurka and Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce. Kurka, who represents part of the conservative Mat-Su Valley, has pledged to immediately fire the state’s health director.

Democrats narrowly lost the 2018 election to Dunleavy, after independent ex-Gov. Bill Walker abandoned his race for reelection and endorsed the Democratic nominee. But Walker’s running again for a slot in the four-candidate runoff, and Democrats have coalesced around Les Gara, a former state legislator.

Ad watch

Liz Cheney for Wyoming, “The Great Task.” Most Republicans expect Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) to lose today, and her final campaign advertising — funded by a surge of donations since her vote to impeach Trump — provide more evidence. The congresswoman's final digital spot addresses “citizens across our great state and across our country,” and focuses largely on Trump's campaign to overturn the 2020 election. “America will never be the same,” says Cheney, if Republicans who lie about the 2020 election prevail.

Hageman for Wyoming, “Desperate for Attention.” Cheney's chief opponent, Harriet Hageman, only appears at the end of her final campaign spot. Most of the 30-second runtime shows a Hageman sign on a windmill, a wide drone shot that contrasts the state's pastoral emptiness with the noise of Cheney's media stardom. “She's made her time in Congress and this election all about her,” says a narrator. “Well, it's not about her, it's about you.”

NRCC, “Helping Criminals.” GOP messaging across New York has focused on the criminal justice measures passed by the Democratic majority in Albany. This spot, running against Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan in his special election campaign for the state's 19th Congressional District, ties him to the state's rollback of cash bail, saying he's “bankrolled by extremists” who want to end cash bail entirely. The hit on Ryan's own record? A June 2020 op-ed he published, while running for county executive, opposing the “militarization” of local police.

Nick Begich for Congress, “Your Voice.” The other Republican in Alaska's special election, the one not named “Sarah Palin,” has played up his local work as a contrast with a far more famous conservative endorsed by Donald Trump. This radio takes a jab at Trump not for any policy reason, but because he's not an Alaskan: “Nick's opponent has some endorsements from celebrities in the Lower 48, but this isn't Celebrity Apprentice.”

Sarah for Alaska, “Negative Nick.” Palin's own messaging in the final weeks of the Alaska campaign has accused Begich and his endorsers or smearing her to prevent a true conservative from winning. “President Trump just came to Alaska to support Sarah,” a narrator says in this spot. “People across the state are joining her cause, too.” It's a different spin on Palin's celebrity status, suggesting it can only help her advocate for the state.

Republican Party of Florida, “Freedom is Here to Stay.” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has no serious GOP challenge in next week's primary, but it's the first one to be held since Republicans outpaced Democrats in voter registration, and the incumbent wants a show of strength. In 30 seconds, the story of DeSantis resisting the pandemic restrictions other states put in place is summarized as a fight for American freedom, the kind other states have let go. “When other states shut people down, Florida lifted people up,” says a narrator.

Poll watch

“This year the candidates for the Republican nomination for U.S. Representative in Wyoming are For which candidate do you plan to vote?” (July 25-August 5, 836 Wyoming residents)

Harriet Hageman: 57%
Liz Cheney: 28%
Anthony Bouchard: 2%
Denton Knapp: 1%

Before today, when Republicans started talking about Cheney in the past tense, this was why. No poll this year has found Cheney ahead of Hageman, or even close to her level of support. Trump's support for Hageman, while not convincing all of her rivals to quit the race, consolidated Republican support; Bouchard, a state senator who jumped in early, has become a non-factor. Nearly 100 percent of Democrats who plan to vote in the primary say they support Cheney, but independents are divided, breaking for Cheney by just 3 points.

In the states

New York. Two Democrats running in the state's 10th Congressional District, which covers parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn, came together on Monday to denounce attorney Dan Goldman and urge primary voters to pick literally anyone else for the safe Democratic seat. Outside city hall, Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou and Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) condemned Goldman for using personal wealth to “buy” the seat, with Jones raising questions about the New York Times editorial board's endorsement of the candidate.

“Look, I have no idea whether the generations of close family relationship between the Sulzbergers and the Goldmans had any role at all to play in the endorsement,” Jones told reporters.

The Times endorsement was always going to play a pivotal role in the crowded race, which has divided the New York left; the Working Families Party, which helped elect Jones to his current seat in Westchester County, backs Niou in the new seat. 

“It certainly helps Dan in the closing days,” said Chris Coffey, a New York Democratic strategist. “Will progressives make the case that there’s something biased about it. We’ll see. It feels like a long shot.”

Minnesota. Republicans held on to the 1st Congressional District in last week's special election, with now-Rep. Brad Finstad (R) prevailing over Democrat and former Hormel executive Jeff Ettinger. But the margin was closer than many Republicans explained, in a seat that backed Trump over Joe Biden by 10 points in 2020. Finstad edged out Ettinger by 4 points, a margin of less than 5000 votes in a race where more than 118,000 were cast.

It was the second special congressional election since the Supreme Court's decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, and the second to show Democrats over-performing — thanks, almost entirely, to higher turnout in suburbs and small cities. Ettinger flipped Mower County, where he lives, and which had voted narrowly for Trump in 2020. But he did best in Olmstead County, home to Rochester and the Mayo Clinic, where turnout skewed higher than it did in rural counties won by Finstad. 

The Minnesota results came one week after a landslide victory for abortion rights activists on a ballot measure in Kansas, which has shaped Democratic thinking about their possible targets in November, and convinced some that they've regained support since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Pat Ryan, the Democratic nominee in next week's special election for New York's 19th Congressional District, said in an interview that there was a “real opportunity” to hold that seat — vacated when Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado took his current role — “building on the momentum from Kansas and Minnesota.”

Wisconsin. On Tuesday night, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos narrowly defeated Trump-backed challenger Adam Steen and won his Republican primary. Less than 72 hours later, Vos sacked Michael Gableman, the former judge he hired — and retained with taxpayer money — after Trump urged him personally to launch a probe of the 2020 election.

“He did a good job last year, kind of got off the rails this year,” Vos told WISN of Gableman, who urged the GOP-led legislature to decertify the 2020 election in the state, which Vos says is legally impossible. “Now we’re going to end the investigation.”

Countdown

… seven days until primaries in Florida, runoffs in Oklahoma, and congressional primaries in New York
… 21 days until primaries in Massachusetts
… 28 days until primaries in Delaware, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island
… 91 days until the midterm elections

2022 Election Calendar

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