On Tuesday, a Democratic Congressional candidate who campaigned heavily on abortion access won a closely watched race in upstate New York. It’s another data point that voters are really fucking mad that the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
Pat Ryan made abortion a central issue of his campaign in New York’s 19th Congressional District, which includes the Hudson Valley towns Kingston and Woodstock. After the Roe decision, his campaign made new lawn signs and other merch reading “choice is on the ballot.” Ryan, a combat veteran, told supporters at a recent event: “This is not the country I fought to defend, when the government is telling women what to do with their bodies, and ripping away their rights.”
Meanwhile, his opponent in this special election, Republican Marc Molinaro, campaigned on issues he said are more pressing, like inflation and crime. Molinaro brushed abortion aside, saying it was settled in New York after the state codified the protections of Roe in 2019.
“The Supreme Court passed this issue back to the states,” Molinaro told the Washington Post. “The states have to act. This state has acted, and broad access is preserved here in New York.” That’s technically true, but state protections won’t matter if Republicans win control of the government in 2024 and pass a national abortion ban at six or 15 weeks.
People in both parties were paying close attention to the race, as the district has voted for the winning presidential candidate in every election since 2008, making it what strategists call a bellwether. Per the Post:
“Covering all or part of 11 counties in Upstate New York, the 19th district is of considerable interest to party strategists, since it went for President Biden by just 1.5 points in 2020 after voting for former president Donald Trump in 2016 and former president Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.”
Preliminary results show that Ryan won by at least 2.2 points, slightly outperforming Biden’s 1.5-point margin over Trump in 2020.
Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report called it a huge victory.
One caveat: Ryan will be in office for just a few months as this was a special election to finish the term of Democratic Rep. Antonio Delgado after he resigned to become Lieutenant Governor of New York.
After Gov. Kathy Hochul chose Delgado to replace her scandal-plagued previous deputy, analysts said the race was a toss-up. Now, Democrats have one less House seat to worry about as they attempt to defy the odds and maintain control of Congress after this fall’s midterm elections.
It’s historically difficult for the party in power to retain the House in a midterm contest, but elections analyst Ryan Matsumoto noted on Twitter that Democrats are doing much better than expected in special elections following the court’s overturning of Roe (in a case called Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization):
Take these results alongside the massive defeat of an anti-abortion ballot initiative in Kansas, and we’ve got some bonafide optimism on our hands! Let’s hope it doesn’t crush our souls.