Democratic victory in iconic New York House district shows power of abortion rights message

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NEW YORK — A victory in a Hudson Valley House district gives Democrats new hope ahead of the landslide 2022 midterm elections and raises questions for Republicans who have been hoping for a “red wave” this fall.

Democrat Pat Ryan won Tuesday’s hotly contested special election, defeating Republican Marc Molinaro, NBC News projected.

The result reveals the power of Democratic messaging on abortion: Ryan had put the Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade front and center to try to get voters in his party to the polls, drawing on his military service to argue that fighting for American freedom means protecting reproductive rights.

He took on the Republican message, carried by Molinaro, that the election is a referendum on President Joe Biden, economic pain through inflation and crime. Molinaro was cast as a brake on Democrats’ “one party rule” in Washington, which Republicans have long seen as a winning argument. On Tuesday morning, Molinaro urged voters to come forward and “send a message to Washington.

It was not enough.

The Hudson Valley district has followed the national mood for years, voting for Joe Biden by about 2 points in 2020 after voting for Donald Trump and Barack Obama in their successful presidential campaigns. It was a Republican-controlled House district until it went to Democrats in the 2018 election wave.

In 2010 or 2014, the last two midterm elections in which a Democrat held the White House, Democratic candidates probably would not have stood a chance in this district. Ryan overcame the headwinds and won.

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“The election was on the ballot. Freedom was on the ballot, and tonight they won the election and freedom,” Ryan said Tuesday night, declaring victory.

Molinaro’s campaign did not immediately respond to the result Tuesday night or respond to messages seeking comment. Ryan will serve the final months of the seat vacated by Democrat Antonio Delgado to become New York’s lieutenant governor, before running for a full term in a neighboring district on Nov. 8.

Before election day, strategists from both parties had downplayed their chances of winning. Democrats were concerned about Republican spending down the stretch and the tendency of many liberal voters to sit out elections when their party rules the White House. Republican officials noted that the special election coincides with a primary day in a blue state where Democrats tend to turn out in greater numbers as a result of more competitive internal races.

If Ryan’s performance on Tuesday is replicated by Democratic candidates this fall, it means control of Congress is still up for grabs. Republicans only need a handful of seats to flip the House majority and a net gain of one seat to capture the Senate.

In a statement congratulating Ryan, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney said his victory “sends a clear message that voters are fighting back against Republicans’ extreme attacks on abortion rights.”

“I am excited to welcome Pat to Congress where I know he will continue to be a champion for the Hudson Valley,” he said in a statement. “Republicans can say goodbye to their ‘Red Wave’ because voters are clearly bucking to elect a pro-abortion majority in Congress this November.”

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Dasha burns contributed.