hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


Editorial June 2018



Who’ll win in the fall? It depends who votes


There’s been a lot written over the past year about the “enthusiasm gap” between Democratic and Republican voters in the age of Trump.

In a series of special elections around the country, and in statewide contests last year in Virginia and New Jersey, Democratic voters have turned out in force, and the party’s candidates have prevailed even in places that had long been GOP turf.

As our cover story this month details, lots of Democratic candidates seem to think this trend could continue in upstate New York this fall. The result is the most crowded Democratic primary ballots ever seen across the state’s 19th and 21st congressional districts, which together stretch along the New England border from Canada to the outer suburbs of New York City.

In the June 26 primary, seven Democrats are competing to take on freshman Republican Rep. John Faso in the 19th, while five are vying for the right to challenge two-term Rep. Elise Stefanik in the 21st.

Lots of Democrats are angry at Faso and Stefanik for supporting, or at least acquiescing to, much of President Trump’s agenda – and especially for their votes in favor of an Obamacare repeal bill last year that effectively would have taken away health insurance from tens of thousands of their constituents and replaced it with nothing. (The bill later died in the Senate.)
But Republicans point out that Trump carried both the 19th and 21st districts in 2016. If the districts’ voters supported this president, they argue, why would they throw out two of his allies?
The answer boils down to this: It depends which voters show up at the polls this November.
There was a time when upstate New York was solidly Republican outside Albany and Buffalo. But the elections of the past 10 years have repeatedly shown the purpling of our part of the state.
Consider the case of Warren County, which always had a significant pocket of Democratic voters in Glens Falls but otherwise was one of the state’s most reliable Republican strongholds. The county voted for every GOP presidential nominee from Richard Nixon through George W. Bush. Then Barack Obama carried it twice, and in 2016 it swung back again, with Donald Trump winning by nearly nine percentage points.

So did thousands of former Obama supporters in Warren County suddenly become devotees of Trump? Possibly a handful did, but a look at the actual numbers, rather than the percentages, suggests a different phenomenon at work.

In 2016, Trump received 15,751 votes in Warren County, or about 300 more than John McCain garnered in losing the county in 2008. But Hillary Clinton’s vote total was down more than 3,000 votes from Obama’s 2008 tally. And the number of votes for third-party candidates more than quadrupled – from fewer than 500 to more than 2,100 – from 2008 to 2016. Far more than enthusiasm for Trump, the 2016 figures suggest an antipathy to Clinton.

Similar trends can be seen in the 2016 returns from every New York county in our region: Trump did slightly better than other recent GOP nominees; Clinton drew far fewer votes than Obama; and support for third-party candidates skyrocketed.

If Democrats want to have a real chance of toppling Faso or Stefanik, they’ll need to figure out how to find all those lost Obama voters and get them re-engaged. After all, Obama did carry both the 19th and 21st districts twice.


Work for the Observer!