In a sign of the potential Republican gains in next month’s midterm elections, House Democratic campaign chief Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney is in danger of losing his New York seat.
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report moved their rating of the race for New York’s 17th District between Maloney, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Republican state legislator Michael Lawler, from Lean Democrat to Toss-Up on Monday morning. Cook said that internal polls from both campaigns were showing a tight race, with Republicans spending millions on their effort so far.
Maloney told ABC News on Sunday that Republicans “are lighting on fire $7 million trying to beat me,” while conceding some “worry” about the race to the Albany Times Union.
“I run like I’m behind,” Maloney told the paper. “That’s why I’ve been successful.”
Last week, Politico reported that the super-PAC Our Hudson, which formed this summer to aid Maloney, was starting to spend money on the race in an effort to prevent an upset of the Democratic candidate. The irony is that Maloney actually switched districts earlier this year to run in an easier seat for a Democratic candidate to win.
After court-mandated redrawing of New York’s congressional districts earlier this year that helped Republicans by avoiding partisan gerrymandering in the Democratic-dominated state, Maloney switched from New York’s 18th district to the 17th. The new 17th district encompasses part of the Hudson Valley, and it includes Maloney’s home.
President Biden won the new 17th district by 10 points in 2020, just a slightly larger margin than Biden’s advantage in the new 18th district.
Maloney—who became the first openly gay representative from New York when he was first elected to Congress in 2012—defended the decision, saying he wanted to represent the area where he lives.
“I think it is important to live where you work and represent the people who are your neighbors,” Maloney told NY1 in July. “That [is] what was important to me.”
Maloney, a moderate who has been in Congress since 2013, had a considerable fundraising advantage over freshman Rep. Mondaire Jones, a gay Black progressive who currently represents the 17th district. To avoid a divisive primary fight between two incumbents, Jones moved to New York City and campaigned unsuccessfully for an open seat there.
The move drew criticism from colleagues in the House, who noted that the DCCC chair’s responsibility is protecting the seats of all incumbents and maximizing the number of seats the party can win.
“It seems like there’s a conflict,” Rep. Ritchie Torres, DN.Y., said in July. “New York 17 is primarily in Congressman Jones’s district. He should be regarded as the incumbent.”
“You cannot have the chair of the DCCC involved in a Democratic primary with an incumbent colleague and expect that person to remain objective about their No. 1 job, which is incumbent protection,” said Rep. Kathleen Rice, DN.Y.
Politico reported that several members, mostly from swing districts, were so offended that they asked the House Democratic leadership to force Maloney to step down his DCCC chairmanship.
Maloney was challenged in the 17th district primary by progressive state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, who attacked Maloney for putting his own interests ahead of the party’s. With the help of the Our Hudson PAC, Maloney beat Biaggi by 70% to 30%.
It is rare to see members of a party’s national leadership lose their seats, and when they do it, is usually part of a dramatic wave election. Democratic Speaker of the House Tom Foley lost in 1994, a year in which Republicans won control of both houses of Congress. According to Cook, the last time a congressional campaign chair for either party lost a general election was 1980, when Jim Corman lost in California. The previous person to hold Maloney’s DCCC position, Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois, announced her retirement last year.
That rating changes from Cook comes with polling showing a shift toward Republicans in the final weeks before the Nov. 8 midterm elections, with early voting having already started in a number of states. A Yahoo News/YouGov poll last week found that the Democratic lead on the generic congressional ballot had disappeared, results echoed by a slew of recent surveys showing the GOP with a slight lead. With Republicans needing only to flip seats to take control, the data analytics site FiveThirtyEight is giving them a four-in-five chance.
Republicans have hammered Biden and his party on inflation and crime, although offered little in the way of plans to solve either problem. A number of top House Republicans, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, have said that if the party takes control of the House they could use that position to push cuts to Medicare and Social Security and other domestic programs.