Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes ofwebsite accessibilityTurnout and tactics: Result of Democratic congressional primary depends on many variables | WSTM
Close Alert

Turnout and tactics: Result of Democratic congressional primary depends on many variables

Dana Balter and Juanita Perez Williams (CNYCentral file photo)
Dana Balter and Juanita Perez Williams (CNYCentral file photo)
Facebook Share IconTwitter Share IconEmail Share Icon
Comment bubble

Democratic voters on Tuesday will head to the polls to decide who will face Rep. John Katko in November in New York's 24th Congressional District race.

The victor of the contest between former Syracuse mayoral candidate Juanita Perez Williams and Syracuse University Professor Dana Balter depends on many variables — from turnout to tactics.

That's something Eric Kingson knows something about. He was a contender in the last congressional Democratic primary in 2016 against victor Colleen Deacon and Perez Williams' ex-husband, Steve Williams.

“The ground game is going to be extremely important," Kingson said. "Whoever has the most volunteers out there. Turnout can make a major difference. There probably won’t be more than 14 or 15,00 people who vote, unfortunately. So, if you have good outreach and a good chance to move people to the polls on election day, you may do very well, no matter what polls say."

A June 13 Siena College poll had Perez Williams leading Balter by a 45-32 percent margin among likely Democratic voters.

Perez Williams' lead, despite her late entry into the race in April, isn't all that surprising to Grant Reeher, professor of political science at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University.

"What a poll like this taps has a lot to do with name recognition, and the primary race hasn't received a lot of media attention," Reeher said. "Perez Williams has higher name recognition than Balter due to her previous run for mayor. She also has the support of the national party organization. But this is the kind of race in which the actual result might not match polling. Balter's campaign emerged out of the local resistance movement, and that could mean that her supporters may be more deeply committed, and more likely to turn out on election day."

RELATED | Democratic race heats up in the 24th District

It's that battle between national party leaders and grassroots activists that turned an almost certain Balter nomination into a heated primary. Shortly after Perez Williams announced her candidacy, the chairs of the Onondaga, Cayuga, Oswego and Wayne County Democratic Committees criticized the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) for "meddling" in the race after they all had endorsed Balter two months prior.

Kingson, who disclosed that he has already voted for Balter, said he is "troubled" by the DCCC's approach to elections, both in the 24th district and elsewhere.

“They put Juanita in at the very last moment. They pushed real hard and they put a lot of money in. So that doesn’t set well with me," Kingson said. "Even though I will support Juanita if she wins. I think what’s going to happen, I think Dana has done the work and I give her a lot of credit for that.”

The quarrel over national resources in the race isn't the only difference between the two Democrats.

"For lack of a better term, Perez Williams is the more 'establishment' candidate," Reeher said. "She can also tap into ethnic identity appeals. Balter has the backing of grassroots reaction to Trump's presidency. They have clashed on reproductive rights, with Balter citing some of Perez Williams’ past statements and actions as evidence that she is not fully supportive of reproductive choice. Perez Williams has countered this with assertions of emphasizing and overcoming of barriers.”

Where the two have paralleled is their core message — that they are the anti-Trump candidate.

When asked if taking such a strong stance against the president was wise given the district’s history of swinging and Rep. Katko’s moderate stance, Kingson said “I don’t think it’s unwise to be honest, no matter what.”

“If those are their views and I suspect that they are I don’t think one should be thinking about if we separate children from their parents as a political issue,” he continued. “It’s wrong. Period. And that has Mr. Trump’s name all over it. So I don’t think it’s unwise. And if it is, I don’t think it matters.”

RELATED | Katko opponents weigh in on Vice President visit

The central New York district is only one of 23 districts in the country that voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton for president in 2016, but also elected a Republican to Congress. Katko won re-election by 20 points.

“Trump’s approval rating, while rising in recent months, is still pretty low,” Reeher said. “Congressman Katko has been a vocal critic of Trump. So I don’t see a big contrast being made in the general election over the views about Trump that would hurt the Democratic candidate. The real question is whether the voters will make a distinction between Trump and Katko. So far, the answer to that appears to be yes.”

Whoever comes out ahead on Tuesday will have a steep hill to climb against Katko, who has the benefit of incumbency and a large campaign chest. And even after a decade of swinging back and forth and an anticipated Democratic wave in the fall, Cook Political Report still ranks the district in the “likely Republican” column.

“I think anyone who runs needs to be honest and direct with their views, obviously be thoughtful and expressive,” Kingson said.

Even with a steep hill, either Balter and Perez Williams have strengths that would make them worthy opponents to Katko.

Comment bubble

“Perez Williams has a compelling life story, an extensive resume, a focused message and significant campaign experience,” Reeher said. “Balter has a focused message, a compelling life story of different kind, and grassroots enthusiasm fueled by dislike of the president. I also think being a woman helps, for this election. Either of them would have a very steep hill in order to beat the incumbent. But as we’ve seen, lightning can strike.”

Loading ...