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Democrat Pat Ryan wins closely watched New York special election

Winner cites abortion rights, gun control in victory speech

Democrat Pat Ryan won the special election in New York's 19th District on Tuesday.
Democrat Pat Ryan won the special election in New York's 19th District on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Democrat Pat Ryan narrowly won a special election Tuesday in New York’s 19th District, keeping a seat his party won by 12 points in 2020 from flipping to the GOP.

Ryan, the Ulster County executive, was leading Republican Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess County executive, 52 percent to 48 percent when the Associated Press called the race at 12:04 a.m. Wednesday. He will serve the remaining months of the term that former Democratic Rep. Antonio Delgado won by a margin of 55 to 43 percent in 2020. Delgado vacated the seat in May to become lieutenant governor under Gov. Kathy Hochul. 

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The National Republican Congressional Committee spent $1.2 million against Ryan, and the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC allied with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy added an additional $515,000 to boost Molinaro.

The Democrat told cheering supporters that initial polls showed him losing by 14 points, but he fought on because “the foundations of our democracy were and remain under direct threat.”

“When the Supreme Court ripped away reproductive freedoms, access to abortion rights, we said this is not what America stands for,” Ryan said. “As more and more kids are getting gunned down by the same weapons I carried in combat, we said this is not what America stands for.”

Ryan will also be running in November for a full term, but that race will be in the 18th District, not the 19th, because of where his home ended up in redistricting.

“My wife would have probably literally disowned me if I said we’re going to move,” Ryan said in an interview over the weekend about running in two different districts. “We live in the old 19th … and the new 18th. It’s also where I grew up.”

This was Ryan’s second bid for Congress. He ran in 2018 but finished second in the Democratic primary behind Delgado.

Ryan has been the Ulster County executive since 2019 and said he “wrestled” with the decision to run again for Congress. He described his time in local government as rewarding, as he saw the direct effect that the county had investing in local infrastructure, small-business relief and pandemic response.

“New York county executives really can have a huge impact,” he said. “And seeing that government can work and that we can rebuild trust in government at every level makes me really want to go to Washington and address what I think is a serious shortcoming of trust right now at the congressional level.”

Ryan was born and raised in Kingston, N.Y., where he still lives with his wife and two children. His grandfather previously served on the Kingston City Council. Ryan remembers knocking on doors to help his grandfather campaign as a formative experience.

Before starting his own political career, Ryan served in the Army as an intelligence officer after graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He was deployed to Iraq twice. The experience of losing soldiers regularly to roadside bombs drew him to think about how data analytics could help better inform military members on the ground. 

After he left the Army, Ryan helped co-found a data analytics company to tackle some of the challenges he had seen as a military intelligence officer. He later also co-founded a security software firm.

Ryan ran on traditional Democratic pillars such as abortion access, voting rights and climate change. He said at an Aug. 22 event that he would “absolutely” support legislation to codify the right to an abortion through federal legislation. He told CQ Roll Call in an interview earlier this month that the issue was one of many that drew him to run for Congress.

“I feel like at a macro level, fundamental rights and freedoms are under threat: certainly the right to access abortions and access reproductive health care, and the right for me to drop my kids at daycare and not fear that they’re going to get gunned down, the right to vote — all these foundational things that I risked my life for,” he said.

Niels Lesniewski and Herb Jackson contributed to this story.

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