Kennedy elected to Congress in NY26

Voters yesterday chose a new representative for the 26th Congressional District, State Senator Tim Kennedy.  With nearly all votes counted Kennedy’s margin of victory was 75 percent to 25 percent for his Republican opponent, West Seneca Supervisor Gary Dickson.  Kennedy’s victory in Erie County with 80 percent of the vote was larger than in Niagara County (55 percent).  More than 100,000 votes were cast.  The registered voter turnout was 22 percent.

The turnout in the special election was significantly lower than the numbers in the two most recent elections for that seat which were held on the regular November election date.  In 2020 the district turnout (in a somewhat different district) was 319,703.  In a re-drawn district in 2022 245,212 votes were cast.  In November of this year the district will have been redesigned once again with lines that will continue through the 2030 election.

Kennedy dominated the race from the start.  He has had a significant public identity in elective office, first as a county legislator and then since 2011 as a state senator.  Dickson is only in his fifth year in an elected town office.  The district is more than two-to-one Democratic by party affiliation.

But there was the other key factor, money.  In just five months Kennedy raised more than $1.7 million for his congressional campaign.  That money funded the continuous TV ads and frequent mailers that were sent to voters.  Dickson raised a little more than $35,000 from mid-February through April 10.  He ran some radio ads but mailings were limited.

Kennedy also took advantage of the millions of dollars he had raised as a state senator.  While he could not directly use that money in a congressional campaign he distributed hundreds of thousands of dollars far and wide beyond his senate district to make friends and influence people.  WKBW-TV also reported that Kennedy’s Senate office sent out 12 state-financed mailers through the first three months of 2024, which was six times more than all of the other Western New York senators combined.

It is worth noting that Republican Dickson ran his race speaking in moderate tones.  He endorsed Donald Trump but spoke rationally about the January 6 insurrection and the work of the FBI.  To the extent that his messaging got through, he discussed issues in a reasonable manner.  It is good to see that a rational discussion of issues is still possible.

Nate McMurray’s petitions which sought to place him on the ballot for the June 25th Democratic primary have been disqualified. There will be no primary.

As of May 1 Dickson is no longer the Republican candidate for Congress.  Going forward to November the party nominee is Anthony Marecki, a Buffalo attorney.  Marecki has not yet created a Federal Election Commission recognized campaign committee.  Whether he plans to run an active campaign or simply let his name be used to fill a line on the ballot remains to be seen.

Expect Tim Kennedy to hit the ground running when he is sworn into office in the next week or two.  He has already set his sights on appointment to a key House committee spot or two where he can actively play a part in the development of legislation.

Given his reputation as a fundraising powerhouse, it seems likely that after the 2024 election cycle he will look to play a role in assisting the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives to raise money for future campaigns.

Over the past six decades the men and woman (Louise Slaughter) who have represented Western New York in Congress have served for multiple terms.  There has been Thaddeus Dulski (16 years); Henry Nowak (18 years); Jack Kemp (18 years); John LaFalce (28 years); Stan Lundine (10 years); Jack Quinn (12 years); Bill Paxon (10 years); Tom Reynolds (10 years); Louise Slaughter (17 years); and Brian Higgins (19 years). 

The exception to this pattern was the interlude between when Reynolds left office in 2009 and 2023.  Four different people held a WNY seat during those 14 years – Chris Lee; Kathy Hochul; Chris Collins; and Chris Jacobs. The seat was also vacant for several months following Collins’ felony conviction.  Nick Langworthy was elected to the southern Erie County/Southern Tier district in 2022 and is up for re-election this year.  He might hold that seat for some time.

As Brian Higgins noted in his resignation from Congress earlier this year, the House of Representatives has strayed far from its constitutional role in governing the United States.  Republicans have made the House into a set for their performance art, showing no serious interest in governing.  While Speaker Mike Johnson recently rose to the occasion to get House approval for critical foreign aid to Ukraine and Israel, it only happened because of the leadership of Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries.

There are still six months to go in the 2024 election and they will not be the smoothest six months in American political history.  The election of Kennedy will not affect the current makeup of the House,  There are, however, multiple paths in New York, California, and some other states including states in the south where Democrats can pick up the small number of seats that they need to regain control of the House.  Stay tuned.

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