Wonky Wednesday:  #NY24 Congressional District


Welcome to a new feature of my voter education series Wonky Wednesday.  Each Wednesday I am going to do a post on my Tumble blog focusing on registration data in Onondaga County.  The last 4 years have proven to reshape Onondaga County and New York State. These changes have made Democrats more competitive in traditionally Republican areas.  This series is meant to show how these demographics will shape the upcoming November election.


First up in this series is the #NY 24 race for United States Congress.  The congressional district for Onondaga County has been relatively the same for decades.  Onondaga County has always dominated the district that sits in it.  Wayne County to the west has been paired with us for the last two redistricting cycles.  In 2012 the portion of the district that stretched west to Monroe County was cut out of the district and Cayuga County was added along with the parts of Oswego County containing the cities of Fulton and Oswego.  Onondaga County continues to dominate this district in terms of total population.  The district now has a distinctive 3% point lead for Democrats, and growing.


The incumbent is John Katko (R) of Camillus.  Mr. Katko, a former federal prosecutor defeated incumbent Dan Maffei in the republican wave election of 2014.  Katko ran up wins in every part of the district and came away with an 18.7 point victory.  In 2016 Katko followed up that win by beating Colleen Deacon by a margin of 20.2% in 2016 despite Hillary Clinton winning the district in the same election.  Katko has framed himself as a moderate and pointed to his involvement in bipartisan groups like the problem solvers caucus as a reason he has been able to overcome Democratic advantage in the district.


In 2018 Dana Balter gave Katko his most pressing challenge. After winning a contentious Democratic primary by a surprising 24.8 points over DCCC backed candidate Juanita Williams, Balter was able to break all fundraising records and unite most of the Democratic Party.  She mounted a formidable election campaign but lost to Katko by 5.2%. Dana Balter once again faced a primary in 2020 to become the Democratic Nominee and defeated Onondaga County Democratic Committee backed candidate Francis Conole by a similar margin as her primary in 2018 (official certification has not yet been posted by State Board of Elections but unofficial counts have it as a 25.6% margin).


The #NY24 district was drawn to be a very competitive district.  In fact at its creation it was nearly even in partisan enrollment. Democrats have grown their advantage in this district dramatically, going from an advantage of just 251 voters to currently an advantage of 14,343 as of July 2020.  While the increase was starting before 2016, it has accelerated since then.  That increase seems to be rowing with dramatic increases in Democratic registrations while GOP has flat lined since 2016.  These changes seem to be driven by the changing nature of Onondaga County.


#NY 24 is a tale of Onondaga County vs the rest.  Democrats have a growing advantage in Onondaga County that has started to produce results in local races.  In fact Dan Maffei’s win in 2012 relied on running up the advantage in Onondaga County.  John Katko’s wins in 2014 and 2016 erased that margin and increased the GOP margins in the outer counties as well.  Dan Maffei’s loss in 2010 mirrored Dana Balter’s loss in 2018 as a narrow win in Onondaga County could not overcome deficits outside of it.  The key for Balter’s chances for victory in 2020 relies on not only on increasing her advantage in Onondaga County, but reduce the deficits outside of it.  


The registration gain in #NY24 on its face is not enough to overcome the 2018 deficit for Balter.  In 2018 Balter lost by 13,694 votes.  Since then Democrats have increased their partisan advantage of 5,822.  This is good news and a decent gain despite the registration woes of the pandemic itself. That gain should continue into Election Day and could close the gap further.  Where Balter’s best hopes rely is the increased turnout expected for 2020. In 2016 during a presidential year there were nearly 315k voters as opposed to 265k voters in 2018.  Though 2018 was record turnout for a mid-term year, 2020 is expected to break all records.  We saw that in the 2018 primary vs the 2020 primary as well.  2018 primary broke all records on turnout (25k voters) and then was shattered by 2020 (47k voters).  50 to 75k more voters could cast their vote in 2020 that stayed home in 2018. Further helping Balter is Katko’s veneer of bipartisanship is taking a hit with his endorsement of Donald Trump (he stayed neutral in 2016) and Trumps falling popularity in New York.  


This is expected to be a very competitive race.  National rankings have it as one of the most competitive seats in the country and polls have shown Dana Balter leading but with a small within the margin split. You can learn more about her with my Virtual town Hall with Dana Balter here or by going to her website electdanabalter.com

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