Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan’s win Tuesday in the special election for New York’s 19th Congressional District stunned the political world, with pundits pegging the swing district as a possible bellwether for November’s midterm elections.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was especially bullish on Democrats’ chances of keeping the House majority following the race, saying that “Republicans should be very, very, very scared this morning about their prospects.”
Ryan, who put the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade front and center in his campaign, defeated former GOP gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro in a district that went for Barack Obama in 2012, Donald Trump in 2016 and Joe Biden in 2020.
“Choice was on the ballot,” he said Tuesday night. "Freedom was on the ballot. And tonight choice and freedom won.”
Molinaro, also a popular county executive of New York's Duchess County, painted the race as a referendum on President Joe Biden, hammering Democrats on crime and inflation.
The vacancy was created when Democrat Antonio Delgado was tapped by Gov. Kathy Hochul to serve as her lieutenant governor. Delgado flipped the seat — once held by Democratic stalwarts like Charlie Rangel and Elliot Engel — in 2018 after it was held by Republicans since 2011.
Both parties poured resources into the race, hoping to bolster enthusiasm ahead of November’s midterms. Polls never showed Ryan leading, including one released the day of the election which showed Molinaro up by 8 points.
All told, Democrats have overperformed by an average of nine points in the four special elections since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, including Tuesday’s contest in New York’s 19th District and a 7-point loss in a separate special race in the state’s 23rd District, which Trump won by 15 points in 2020.
Following the race, the non-partisan Cook Political Report adjusted their ratings for the 2022 midterms Wednesday, writing that while Republicans are still favorites for control of the House, the margin is expected to be much smaller, and Democrats retaining control is not out of the question.
The performance has given Democrats hope in a midterm environment that previously appeared to have been much more favorable for Republicans.
Pelosi, speaking at an event about prescription drug pricing in San Francisco, called Tuesday’s race a “big victory” for Democrats.
“We had a big victory last night,” she said. “People were stunned by the fact that in a district that was not supposed to go Democratic, that it did.”
“I give credit to our candidate Pat Ryan — a veteran, a public servant, a small business person bringing so much to his candidacy and will bring so much to the Congress very soon,” Pelosi continued.
Pelosi went on to tout the recent accomplishments of her caucus — including the Inflation Reduction Act, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Chips and Science Act — comparing Democrats’ razor-thin margins to the massive margins enjoyed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930’s when he enacted the New Deal programs.
“Republicans should be very, very, very scared this morning about their prospects,” Pelosi warned. “I have never believed that we would not hold the House. That's my mission. And that's what I hope to accomplish and I plan to do it under the leadership of [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair] Sean Patrick Maloney.”
“This one they expected to win,” she said of Republicans. “And they outspent us, but we out-organized them. We don't agonize, we organize.”
Ryan will serve in Congress until the end of Delgado’s term, and will run in a neighboring district in November; likewise, Molinaro will run again new 19th District, which includes a portion of the Hudson Valley but also stretches west to include the cities of Binghamton and Ithaca.