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NY-22 race takes on local, national economy

Congressman Maurice Hinchey speaking to seniors in August. Hinchey is expected to go back to Congress as a senior member of the minority party.
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Congressman Maurice Hinchey speaking to seniors in August. Hinchey is expected to go back to Congress as a senior member of the minority party.

New York’s 22nd  congressional race has been identified as a possible Republican pickup. It’s a longshot, but the chance has focused national attention on the race. The conversation in the campaign so far has been mostly about the economy. The question is whether it’s the local economy or the national one that’s most important to voters.

Speaking before a campaign event in Endicott Friday, Maurice Hinchey acted surprised when asked about the perception of a tightening race between himself and his Republican opponent, George Phillips.

"We didn’t have it on our radar, on our polls, no," says Hinchey.

Political bloggers from Five-Thirty Eight to Politico think Hinchey will hold on to his seat, but they’re predicting an unusually tough race for the nine-term incumbent. That’s unusual, because the last time Hinchey ran, in 2008, it was against same candidate: George Phillips. Hinchey won that contest by more than 30 percentage points.

"I think most people understand the differences between he and me," says Hinchey, "and I think that they understand them based upon the same set of circumstances that we had to deal with two years ago. He hasn’t changed, and I haven’t changed."

What has changed is the economy. In line with national numbers, the unemployment rate in Broome County, where both Hinchey and Phillips campaigned last week has risen from around 5 percent before the recession, to hover between 8 and 10 percent now.

Phillips’ director of communications, Jazz Shaw, is quick to situate the race in a national context, noting that, "races are tightening in traditionally Democratic areas all across the country. A lot of the pundits describe it as a wave."

His candidate's primary message is that Democrats have fumbled the national economy.    

"Washington is out of control right now, the economy is sputtering and we need fresh faces now more than ever," he said at a final press conference in Binghamton, last Wednesday.

Phillips’ plan is to cut waste, but also bring more resources back to the community to create jobs. Among his proposed national initiatives is a reform of the Department of Education, which Phillips says would halt rising local property taxes.

Hinchey says he’s better positioned to make a local impact and to create jobs, given his status in Washington.

"I’m running for reelection because I am a senior member of the appropriations committee,” Hinchey says. “And I’m going to be able to bring even more positive elements here into this region."

But as much as Hinchey says he’d like to focus on local issues, national forces are at play.

The Phillips campaign has struggled financially. But a national conservative political action committee, American Crossroads, has stepped in to assist Phillips with hundreds of thousands of dollars in anti-Hinchey ad buys. It’s part of a wider campaign against Democratic incumbents.

One big issue is clearly local. Hinchey is critical of hydrofracking to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale. He co-sponsored the FRAC Act, which would force gas drillers to publicly disclose what chemicals they used, and has supported delaying drilling for more review.

Phillips’ has made his support for drilling a standard part of his stump speech and platform, and recent articles from the Press & Sun-Bulletin, environmental coverage source, Greenwire and The Wall Street Journal suggest the issue may have helped his campaign. Hinchey declined to speculate on how hydrofracking is affecting the race.

But either way, the region is likely to lose clout in the next Congress. Even if Hinchey wins back his seat and his spot on the appropriations committee, it looks increasingly likely that he will likely be a member of the minority in the House.


Former WRVO/Central New York reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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