Twenty-two-term Rep. Charles Rangel and his challenger, state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, made 11th-hour appeals to voters in the upper Manhattan and Bronx congressional district on Monday, as President Barack Obama declined to make an endorsement in the race.
Rangel, 84, fighting to extend his 44-year congressional career, played up his experience, while Espaillat stressed his fresh perspective.
Espaillat, 59, pointed out Obama's decision not to back Rangel -- who has said he wants to serve two more years in Washington, D.C., finishing his political career alongside the president -- as a negative in a WABC-AM radio interview, and said that Obama chose to endorse in other races around the country.
Asked about the president's decision, Rangel, on the same program, "The Ride Home with Pat Kiernan," argued voters are only concerned about "who's the best member of Congress for them."
The candidates stumped in the 13th congressional district Monday, the eve of their rematch in the Democratic primary. A NY1/Siena College poll on Thursday showed Rangel had a 13-percentage-point lead over Espaillat. Rangel defeated Espaillat by fewer than 1,000 votes two years ago.
Rangel is to vote at P.S. 175 in Harlem on Tuesday morning. Espaillat is to vote at P.S. 98 in Inwood.
Democratic National Committee spokesman Michael Czin noted that Obama also didn't endorse in the district's primaries in 2010 and 2012, according to Politico. "However, he believes that Mr. Rangel has been and continues to be an advocate for quality, affordable health care, fair wages and opportunity for all his constituents," Czin added.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, like Obama, won't be endorsing in the primary. "I will support the eventual winner," de Blasio said Monday at an unrelated event in Queens.
Rangel and Espaillat also appeared on Fox 5/WNYW's "Good Day New York."
Espaillat, of Washington Heights, who has the support of many local lawmakers and unions that backed Rangel two years ago, expressed confidence that he would clinch the seat this year. "I think the second time's a charm," he said.
Asked whether Rangel's age is a factor in the race, Espaillat said no.
"I think his disconnect with the district is a factor," Espaillat said, arguing that he better understands residents are struggling with high rent and low wages in a district that was redrawn in recent years to include parts of the Bronx and more Latino residents. "I think he's been in Washington too long."
Rangel, of Harlem, on the show lauded his endorsements from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and others. Admitting that he is seeking one last term in Congress, Rangel highlighted his decades of experience as the best case to re-elect him to office "these last two years."
"He's new, and he just couldn't do the job in my opinion," Rangel said of Espaillat. Rangel likened himself to "an old horse who kept bringing back the grand prize" and Espaillat to a new one who doesn't know the track.
Espaillat has highlighted the fact that Rangel was censured in 2010 over ethics violations and resigned as leader of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.
The Rev. Michael Walrond of Harlem and Bronx community activist Yolanda Garcia are also running for the congressional seat.