The heart of summer may have passed, but the temperature in New York’s 19th District is only starting to warm up.
Democrats see it as a top-tier pickup opportunity, a rare open-seat House race in a tossup district that President Barack Obama won twice. The GOP is gearing up to defend it in a presidential election year that could include former Empire State Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton at the top of the ticket. For now, most of the action is taking place behind the scenes.
The only Democrat who has filed with the Federal Election Commission is John Patrick Kehoe, a 29-year-old CEO and chairman of Yellowcake Music.
“I would like to be the Drake or Justin Bieber of Congress,” he told CQ Roll Call, before noting he plans to primarily campaign on “employment and economics in general, specifically taxes and regulations.”
Operatives acknowledge it’s still early in the cycle, with almost nine months remaining until New York’s filing deadline. Still, both national parties are keeping a close eye on what’s expected to be one of the top House battlegrounds of the cycle.
“There will be no shortage of Democratic victories in the Empire state in 2016, and we expect NY-19 to be among them,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Jeb Fain said in an email. “The numbers favor Democrats in this open-seat during a Presidential year.”
Republican Rep. Chris Gibson announced in January he wouldn’t seek re-election . He won in 2014 by almost 30 points in a high-profile race over wealthy challenger Sean Eldridge, who has declined to run again .
Two candidates have filed paperwork with the FEC in the past month, while a number of others are considering runs in this expansive Hudson Valley district.
On the Republican side, the only candidate to file paperwork with the FEC is John Faso, a former state Assembly minority leader and 2006 gubernatorial candidate. In an interview with Roll Call, Faso said he hasn’t fully committed to running, but he’s leaning toward taking the leap and would announce sometime in the fall.
“I know the district well, I know the state well, I’m very familiar with the issues the country is facing. That’s why I’m seriously looking at this race,” Faso said.
While Faso hasn’t run for office since 2006, a super PAC he created — New York 2014 — spent some $1.5 million last cycle, including on ads for now-freshman Republican Reps. Elise Stefanik and John Katko.
State Assemblyman Peter Lopez is also a potential GOP candidate, and a Republican operative confirmed that both Faso and Lopez have met with the National Republican Congressional Committee.
In an interview with CQ Roll Call last month, Lopez said he was looking “very seriously” at running and he noted the Assembly seat he currently represents includes multiple counties already in the congressional district. He also said his timeline would be contingent on several factors, including whether his family would be comfortable with the work necessary to serve such a geographically large district and its accompanying fundraising burden.
The district extends into multiple media markets, including portions of the New York City market. Gibson spent some $3 million on his 2014 victory, according to his FEC filings, while Eldridge spent close to $6 million, most of it self-funded.
While Faso and Lopez may be the strongest candidates for the GOP establishment’s support, the Republican primary field appears relatively unsettled. Two other possible contenders mentioned on the Republican side include Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin and local businessman Andrew Heaney. Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro had been mentioned as a possible contender, but most likely won’t run, according to one GOP operative.
The two established candidates mentioned as possible Democratic contenders are Ulster County Executive Mike Hein and former state Sen. Terry Gipson. While insiders cite Hein as an early favorite to win the party nomination should he choose to run, he told the Poughkeepsie Journal last month that for now, he’s focused on his own re-election for county executive this November.
Gipson told Roll Call he has traveled to Capitol Hill to meet with the DCCC, as well as a number of congressmen. He said he is still deciding between possibly running for Congress or an in-state position.
“I am still exploring all of my options and I wouldn’t count anything out at the moment,” Gipson said.
NRCC spokesman Chris Pack wrote in an email, “Keeping NY-19 in the Republican column will be a priority for the NRCC in 2016. While it’s still early in the process, we’ll be ready to help the Republican nominee as soon as he or she wins the nomination.”