Democratic victory in flagship NY House district showcases power of abortion rights message

NEW YORK — A victory in a neighborhood of the Maison d’Aime in the Hudson Valley gives Democrats new hope ahead of a daunting 2022 midterm election and raises questions for Republicans who expected a “red wave” this fall.

Democrat Pat Ryan won the hotly contested special election on Tuesdaybeating Republican Marc Molinaro, NBC News screened.

The result reveals the power of Democratic messaging on abortion: Ryan had brought the Supreme Court’s overturning of the Roe v. Wade case to the fore in an attempt to galvanize his party’s voters to the polls, leaning on his military service to assert that fighting for American freedom means protecting reproductive rights.

He was opposed to the Republican message, carried by Molinaro, that the election is a referendum on President Joe Biden, an economic pain from inflation and crime. Molinaro presented himself as a check on the Democrats’ “one-party rule” in Washington, which Republicans have long seen as a winning argument. Tuesday morning, Molinaro urged voters to come forward and “send a message to Washington”.

It wasn’t enough.

The Hudson Valley District has tracked the national mood for years — it voted for Joe Biden by about 2 points in 2020 after voting for Donald Trump and Barack Obama during their successful presidential campaigns. It was a Republican-held district until it passed to Democrats in the 2018 election wave.

In 2010 or 2014 — the last two midterm elections where a Democrat held the White House — Democratic candidates probably wouldn’t have had a chance in that district. Ryan overcame the headwinds and won.

“Choice was on the ballot. Freedom was on the ballot, and tonight choice and freedom won,” Ryan said Tuesday night, declaring victory.

The Molinaro campaign did not immediately respond to the result Tuesday night or respond to messages seeking comment. Ryan will serve the final months of the seat vacated by Democrat Antonio Delgado to become lieutenant governor of New York, before running for a full term in a neighboring district on Nov. 8.

Before Election Day, strategists in both parties had played down their chances of winning. Democrats have worried about Republican spending on the stretch and the tendency of many liberal voters to sit out elections when their party leads the White House. GOP operatives noted that the special election coincides with a primary day in a blue state where Democrats typically show up in larger numbers due to more competitive intraparty contests.

If Ryan’s performance on Tuesday is replicated by Democratic candidates this fall, it means congressional scrutiny is still up for grabs. Republicans only need a handful of seats to overthrow the House majority and a net gain of one seat to win the Senate.

In a statement congratulating Ryan, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney said his victory “sends a clear message that voters are fighting back against Republicans’ extreme attacks on abortion rights.”

“I am thrilled to welcome Pat to Congress where I know he will continue to be a champion for the Hudson Valley,” he said in a statement. “Republicans can kiss their ‘Red Wave’ goodbye because voters are clearly out in force to elect a pro-choice majority in Congress in November.”

Dasha burns contributed.

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