Ryan defeats Molinaro in special Congressional election in 19th; 21st candidates come out swinging

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Democratic candidate Pat Ryan speaks to supporters during a campaign rally Monday in Kingston. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

19TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT In a race seen as having national implications ahead of November’s midterm elections, Democrat Pat Ryan narrowly defeated Republican Marc Molinaro in a special election Tuesday in New York’s 19th Congressional District.

The race to fill Democratic Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado’s vacated seat garnered national attention, in part, because Ryan made abortion rights an issue following the Supreme Court of the United States’ Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision.

“Choice was on the ballot. Freedom was on the ballot, and tonight choice and freedom won,” Ryan, the Ulster County executive, tweeted Tuesday night following his victory over Molinaro, the executive of neighboring Dutchess County.

Ryan won 51% of the vote, 65,943 to 62,952, with fewer than 130,000 of more than 476,000 registered voters turning out.

“It’s better than I would have expected for an August primary day,” Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg said of turnout. “Still, it’s personally disappointing that it’s [roughly] 30% and we consider only 30% a reasonable turnout.”

Ryan won nearly 62% of the Ulster County vote, and Molinaro won nearly 52% of the Dutchess County vote. 

The current 19th Congressional District includes all of Columbia, Delaware, Greene, Otsego, Schoharie, Sullivan and Ulster counties, and parts of Broome, Dutchess, Montgomery and Rensselaer counties. Delgado won the seat in 2018 and 2020, but previously the seat had been in Republican control since 2011. Ryan will only hold the seat for about four months, the balance on Delgado’s term.

In November, Molinaro will run in the newly-drawn 19th Congressional District, while Ryan will be running in the new 18th Congressional District.

Nationwide, Democrats have viewed abortion as a winning issue, especially after Kansas voters rejected a ballot measure earlier this month that would have removed protections for abortion from the state’s constitution.

But Republicans like Molinaro are banking on the midterms being a referendum on Democratic control.

“As we look forward, every midterm election is a referendum on the party in power,” Molinaro said in a statement. “Late campaign comments by folks like Governor [Kathy] Hochul, that if you don’t agree with their policies on the economy, crime and pandemic restrictions then you should leave are wrong. Everyone in this district, in America, deserves a government that respects and serves them.”

During the campaign, Molinaro avoided talking about abortion, sticking to Republican talking points such as crime and inflation. During the final week of the race, Molinaro appeared in Canajoharie with U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Saratoga, the House’s third-ranking Republican.

On Tuesday night, Stefanik learned her Democratic opponent this November will be Matt Castelli, D-Glens Falls, after the former CIA officer and director for Counterterrorism at the National Security Council, easily defeated Matt Putorti, an openly gay lawyer from Whitehall. Castelli won his Democratic primary in New York’s 21st Congressional District with more than 80% of the vote, though only 23,351 votes had been counted out of 137,168 Democrats in the North Country district, which includes Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Hamilton, Herkimer, Lewis, Montgomery, St. Lawrence, Schoharie, Warren and Washington counties, as well as parts of Jefferson, Otsego and Rensselaer counties. To be sure, only 498 of 530 election districts had reported results by 10:15 p.m. Wednesday.

Both general election candidates in the 21st came out swinging immediately.

Stefanik’s team called Castelli a “far-left downstate Democrat” in a release attacking Castelli’s character.

Castelli said he “entered this race because Elise Stefanik continues to threaten our country by embracing extremism.”

Tuesday’s primary election results also featured U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko rolling in his first Democratic primary challenge since winning his Congressional seat in 2008. Tonko defeated Rostislav Rar, a 32-year-old immigration attorney in New York’s new 20th Congressional District. Tonko won more than 87% of votes cast in the district, which no longer includes his hometown of Amsterdam but now includes Albany, Saratoga and Schenectady counties, as well as part of Rensselaer County. Only 19,741 votes had been counted Wednesday out of nearly 204,000 registered Democrats in the 20th. Four election districts had not yet reported results as of 10:15 p.m. Wednesday.

Tonko will face Republican Liz Joy in November in a rematch of a 2020 race that Tonko won 219,705 to 139,446.

Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.

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By Andrew Waite

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