The Democrats’ road to recapturing a majority in the U.S. House may well run through New York State, which has some of the country’s most competitive races this November, political experts say.
Two districts with Republican first-termers — Reps. John Faso in the Hudson Valley and Catskills region and Claudia Tenney in central New York — are ranked a “toss up” by major election-handicapping websites.
Party committees and analysts also are eyeing downstate races where the GOP incumbents may be less vulnerable, but vulnerable nonetheless. They include Rep. Lee Zeldin’s eastern Long Island district and Rep. Dan Donovan’s seat in Staten Island.
“As I look at the entire map of congressional races around the country, I think Democrats need to gain at least two House seats out of New York to get back to the majority,” said Nathan Gonzales, editor and publisher of Inside Elections, a campaign analysis website.
The Democratic Party needs to flip at least 23 seats to regain control of the House.
"It just makes the seats in this entire state so important, especially in this environment where we’ve seen upsets," said Jeanne Zaino, an Iona College political science professor. “Usually, our House races don’t have this kind of potential national impact.”
The midterms will come down to voter turnout and local issues, Zaino said.
Here are what experts say are the state’s closest congressional races:
Candidates: Republican Rep. John Faso and Democrat Antonio Delgado
District: North of New York City
Faso of Kinderhook, a former Assembly minority leader who once ran for governor, faces what analysts say is a formidable challenge from Delgado of Rhinebeck, a Rhodes scholar, former corporate lawyer and one-time rapper.
Earlier this month, the National Republican Congressional Committee released a TV ad that splices Delgado’s remarks on the campaign trail with explicit tracks from his decade-old hip-hop career. It is titled “Who Am I.” The NRCC said the Delgado lyrics challenge his "authenticity as an upstanding citizen."
On Tuesday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee took out a six-figure ad buy with a TV spot that shows Faso promising a resident with a brain tumor that he would protect her health care. The ad says Faso instead cast "the deciding vote for a new health care scheme that would deny protections for pre-existing conditions."
Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg said the 19th District is even "in terms of enrollment, a moderate district because of the partisan breakdown."
A Spectrum News/Siena College poll late last month showed Faso leading Delgado, 45 percent to 40 percent, among likely voters. Greenberg noted that the numbers also found Faso is better known but not better liked than Delgado.
A Monmouth University released 10 days later showed an even tighter race with Delgado ahead by 2 points.
Candidates: Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney and Democrat Anthony Brindisi
District: East of Syracuse
Tenney of New Hartford, an attorney, businesswoman and former member of the Assembly, has President Donald Trump’s support in fending off a challenge from Brindisi of Utica, also a lawyer and Assembly member.
"I don't think she's going to have any problem," Trump said last month in Utica, where he headlined a fundraiser for Tenney.
Brindisi is a moderate with an “A” rating from the NRA and a critic of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo — attributes expected to boost him among swing voters in a district where GOP voters outnumber Democratic ones by 30,000.
A Spectrum News/Siena College poll showed that 28 percent of GOP respondents said they found Tenney unfavorable, while 31 percent of Republicans said they found Brindisi favorable. “There are clearly Republicans who are not Tenney Republicans,” Greenberg said.
The survey showed Tenney and Brindisi in a dead heat with the Democrat boasting a 2-point edge.
Former state Democratic Party executive director Basil Smikle said the suburbs in New York, like those around the country, have grown more diverse racially and economically in recent years.
“Certainly, suburban women are the audience that Faso and Tenney need to win over,” added New York-based GOP strategist Evan Siegfried.
Candidates: Republican Rep. John Katko and Democrat Dana Balter
District: Syracuse and counties to its west
The race between Balter, a progressive Syracuse University professor who defeated a DCCC-funded rival in the primary, and the incumbent Katko, a former federal prosecutor, is less tight, according to polling.
Spectrum News and Siena College found Balter of Syracuse is 15 points behind Katko of Camillus, who is one of only 25 House Republicans representing a district carried by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.
The DCCC added Balter to its “Red to Blue” program after her primary victory.
Balter on Wednesday released a TV spot criticizing Katko's vote in support of the Republicans’ sweeping tax code overhaul, saying it means raising health care premiums.
Katko earlier this month ran a TV ad that featured a clip of Balter saying she "would pay for 'Medicare for all' with a health care tax."
Candidates: Republican Rep. Dan Donovan and Democrat Max Rose
District: Staten Island
Donovan, the former Richmond County district attorney endorsed by Trump, defended his seat in a primary challenge by his predecessor, Michael Grimm, who was convicted of tax fraud. He now faces Rose, an Army veteran with a Bronze Star and Purple Heart who is a former aide to the late Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson, in New York City’s most right-leaning district.
Inside Elections and the Cook Political Report both rank the race “likely Republican,” while Sabato’s Crystal Ball says it “leans Republican,” a rating less favorable to Donovan.
Candidates: Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin and Democrat Perry Gershon
District includes: Eastern Suffolk County
The DCCC earlier this month added Gershon of East Hampton, a commercial real estate lender, to its “Red to Blue” list. The Democrat is working to unseat Zeldin, who is seeking his third term.
Zeldin of Shirley, an attorney and former Army active duty member now serving as a major in the Army Reserve, has had fundraising help from those close to the president, including Donald Trump Jr.
Smikle, the Democratic consultant, said he believes Zeldin to be the most vulnerable of the downstate Republicans.
Siegfried, the GOP strategist, said he thinks Zeldin will survive the challenge.
Inside Elections, the Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball did not include the 2nd District, held by 13-term Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), on its lists of competitive races to watch. King faces activist Liuba Gretchen Shirley of Amityville.