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Upstate New York is the heart of Operation Counterweight

Upstate New York is the heart of Operation Counterweight

It may seem counter-intuitive, but Upstate New York (the NY flyover country) is a key to holding the House, and will form a core of Operation Counterweight

In 2010, Republicans picked up several seats upstate; redistricting has caused the loss of one upstate seat (and one downstate, Anthony Weiner’s old district) but the map drawn by the judiciary seems to work pretty well for Republicans, as discussed below. 

While not all of the Republican candidates qualify as the type of upstarts who will stand up to Republican leadership, nonetheless the Upstate group as a whole can be considered part of Operation Counterweight because we are talking red seats in a very blue state, and protecting the gains of 2010.  I have put an asterisk next to the five races which qualify for Operation Counterweight individually, even if not part of this Upstate group.

As a sign of how important upstate New York has become, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting three upstate Republicans (Hayworth, Gibson, Buerkle).

So here’s the analysis (thanks to a Cornell student who wants to remain anonymous for the research and drafting):

Despite sharing the same Senators with New York City, much of Upstate New York shares little in common politically. A common gripe for Upstate New Yorkers is that the political power of the New York City Metropolitan Area invalidates their voting in Senate and Presidential races. The Congressional races have long been Upstate New Yorkers’ only chance to meaningfully vote on a national stage. In a state notorious for being solidly Blue, Republicans will have an opportunity in 2012 to represent most of the state geographically.

 Like other parts of the country, 2012 redistricting in New York State has reshaped the Congressional map considerably.

These new Congressional districts will challenge Democratic incumbents throughout Upstate  As matters stand in 2012, New York is slated to lose two Representatives (electoral votes), as the population of Upstate New York continues to hollow out.

One of the biggest story lines is how Maurice Hinchey’s (formerly in the district covering Ithaca) retirement will affect a number of races, because his district was extremely gerrymandered and has now finally been split up.

The Cook Report’s list of Competitive House Races features eight Upstate New York races.


The Race: Freshman Congresswoman Nan Hayworth (R), formerly of NY-19, will face Sean Patrick Maloney, a Democratic insider and former aide to Eliot Spitzer.

Maloney does not live in the district and tries to avoid being associated with Spitzer and the “Troopergate” scandal. Despite his baggage, Maloney was endorsed by Bill Clinton and has support from big labor.

Very weak voter turnout in the Democratic primary:

Hayworth outnumbers Maloney in cash on hand by about 3 to 1.

Redistricting has made the district slightly more blue, but Hayworth has a strong advantage in fundraising and organization. She won in 2010 by a margin of 6 points.

This race is likely to be very competitive and Cook classified it as a “Republican Toss-up”, but the advantage definitely leans toward Hayworth.

The Hayworth campaign message is unambiguously focused on economic issues, but a recent scandal surrounding Facebook comments by a campaign staffer has shifted the focus to social issues in the short term.

It is unlikely that attacking Hayworth on social issues will be very effective in the general election. Hayworth is a successful woman in a district largely focused on economic and national security issues (perhaps the result of its closeness to New York City).


The Race: First term Congressman Chris Gibson (R), formerly of NY-20, will face former Ulster County Democratic Chairman Julian Schreibman. 

Schreibman was not the DCCC’s first choice and he is not a strong candidate (especially due to low name recognition). He’s a Democratic candidate who doesn’t live in the district (recurring theme in the two Hudson Valley races). [Note:  Schreibman’s Campaign Manager e-mails me, “Julian does in fact live inside the district- he lives in Stone Ridge in Ulster County.”]

Gibson was elected in 2010 to replace Scott Murphy (D), who narrowly won Kirsten Gillibrand’s Congressional seat in a 2009 special election.

A decorated veteran (four bronze stars) of Desert Storm, Kosovo and Iraq, Chris Gibson holds a PhD in Government from Cornell and served as a National Security Fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution.

Because of redistricting and the splitting of Maurice Hinchey’s former district, Gibson faces a slightly more Democratic district in 2012. However, his opponent isn’t strong and Gibson outnumbers Schreibman in cash on hand by about 5 to 1.

Nonetheless, the Cook Report calls this a Republican Toss-up and gives a slight advantage to Democrats because of redistricting. In the old district, Gibson won election in 2010 by 10% (55-45) over Scott Murphy.

Because of how competitive this race is, Gibson would likely fit the criteria for Operation Counterweight fairly well.


The Race: Bill Owens (D), formerly of NY-23, will face Tea Party-supported businessman Matt Doheny, who lost to Owens in the 2010 general election for NY-23.

This race is difficult to predict, but according to the primary results, Doheny’s baggage is probably played out:

In terms of fundraising, Doheny and Owens are neck and neck.

Owens has been hit by a trip reimbursement scandal concerning who paid for Owens’ $22,000 trip to a Taiwanese university.

This race is likely to be very close. Owens was first elected in a 2009 special election after Republican John McHugh became Secretary of the Army. Owens benefitted from a Conservative Third-party spoiler and did not gain more than 50% of the vote in the special election or the 2010 general election. Without a serious third party opponent in a Republican-leaning district not greatly changed by redistricting, Owens might be the best Upstate New York Democratic seat to flip.


The Race: First Term Congressman Richard Hanna (R), formerly of NY-24, faces Dan Lamb (D), the district representative of the retiring Congressman Maurice Hinchey. Unsurprisingly, Lamb has been endorsed by retiring Congressman Maurice Hinchey.

Lamb is not a very strong opponent for Hanna and the district favors Republicans.

According to the Cook Report, the race is classified as “Likely Republican,” suggesting that the race will be one of the safer Republican districts in Upstate New York.


The Race: First term Congressman Tom Reed (R), formerly of NY-29, will run against Nate Shinagawa, a 28 year old Tompkins County Legislator.  This district now includes Ithaca.

Shinagawa is a Cornell alum and thus hails from the new part of the district. He might benefit from local college student help and his ability to energetically campaign. This race seems to favor Reed, but it’s no lock by any means. Shinagawa might attract some national attention from the DCCC as a young Asian candidate. Positive press coverage doesn’t hurt.

In terms of fundraising, Reed has a big advantage.

The Cook Report labels this race as “Likely Republican.”

This race will be of particular note, as redistricting threatens to bring Ithaca, NY under Republican control. Previously, Ithaca fell under 10 term Congressman Maurice Hinchey’s extremely gerrymandered district, which spanned from the Eastern shores of the Hudson River near New York City to Binghamton, before reaching up to Ithaca.

The new Congressional map splits Maurice Hinchey’s district, just as he sought retirement due to health issues. Perhaps the best example of how the 2012 race might realign Upstate New York’s Congressional seats, portions of the 22nd District will fall under 4 new districts, namely NY-18, NY-19, NY-22, and NY-23.


The Race: First term Congresswoman Ann Marie Buerkle (R), formerly of NY-25, faces a strong challenge from her opponent in 2010, Democrat Dan Maffei, whom she very narrowly defeated after weeks of absentee balloting.

Redistricting has not been kind to Buerkle, whose new district leans more Democratic. Even before redistricting, her positions placed her slightly to the right of the district and her victory in 2010 was a surprise pick-up for Republicans.

Further, her opponent Dan Maffei is close to her in cash-on-hand, despite recently being out-fundraised by a two to one margin.

Here is an article laying out the messaging from both national committees. NY-24 seems to be getting quite a bit of national attention.

Given the redistricting and fundraising, it is unsurprising that the Cook Report labeled the seat “Leans Democratic.” 

Ann Marie Buerkle seems to hold the most threatened Republican seat upstate, because she was already to the right of the district and her district has shifted even more blue.


The Race: Louise Slaughter (D), formerly of NY-28, is seeking a 14th term as the oldest woman in Congress. Not only has redistricting made Slaughter’s district more Conservative in 2012, it also brought her a popular challenger in Maggie Brooks, the Republican County Executive of Monroe County. Although Slaughter has tremendous campaign infrastructure, Maggie Brooks might be “the only other politician besides Ms. Slaughter who is on a first-name basis with voters in this lakefront region.”

Rep. Slaughter also is recovering from a broken leg, which will hinder her ability to reach out to voters in the new parts of her district, which pushing out further from Rochester, now presents a greater geographical area that helps Brooks’ chances of victory.

The Cook Report classifies the race as “Leans Democratic.” 


The Race: First term Congresswoman Kathy Hochul (D), formerly of NY-26, will be opposed by Chris Collins, previously Erie County’s executive.

Because Hochul is vulnerable, she is trying to run away from Obama and the national democratic platform. 

Hochul was elected in a 2011 special election in the district previously represented by Republican Chris Lee. Her victory was surprising at the time and she benefited from a Tea Party candidate Jack Davis, who won 9% of the vote.

Her new district “has thrown the 53-year-old freshman into the most Conservative district in the state”.  The district’s demographics played a huge role in the last election, as the high concentration of older voters helped Hochul, who campaigned on protecting Medicare.

The fundraising disparity in this race is large, with Hochul holding Cash on Hand of $858,058, as of March 31 and her potential Republican challengers trailing far behind.

However, redistricting should favor a Republican pickup.

Hochul is very threatened in this election cycle, as an already favorable district to Republicans has become even more Republican.


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This was an excellent read. I will go through it again and make some decisions regarding to whom to contribute today. My thinking is to send money to races where the contributions can make the most incremental difference. Articles like this are very helpful.

Please consider Bob Dieterich against Paul Tonko in NY20. Speaking as part of the group who ousted Murphy for Chris Gibson I can asure you we are working hard to get rid of Tonko too. We protested Bill Clinton, endorsing Murphy, a few days before the 2010 election at 5:00AM, never thought we would have hundreds of people join us.

I would love to see NY taken over by Republicans. The irony is just TOO rich.
We did it in Minnesota in 2010, Professor. Hope the NY citizens will do the same.

Ann Marie Buerkle is my representative and I can assure you that she is NOT to my right. I’m proud of how she’s come out on the right side of so many issues when she has so little experience in politics.

New York being what it is, she will probably lose, but I’ll send her a few dollars (I can’t afford more than a few) anyway.

In my mind, the more important race is in neighboring Monroe County. Louise Slaughter has been polluting the House with her execrable super-extreme partisanship for far too long. Remember that she was the chair of the rules committee when Obamacare was being rammed through and she actively assisted in the ramming.

I grew up in Louise’s district (and still work there) but, since Rochester residents would generally rather vote for Adolph Hitler than ANY republican, her seat has been safe.

The suburbs will probably go for Maggie. After her years as a local TV reporter she has universal name and face recognition. On issues, she’s a bit too moderate for my tastes but compared to Louise she’s far, far, far right wing. Her chances of winning are probably not great.

I wish both these great women, Maggie and Ann Marie, all the luck in the world. I may even volunteer to help them, which is something I’ve rarely even considered before since I generally despise politicians.

I’m from one of these districts and I tend to think Upstate New York is actually a lot like the country as a whole. Upstate went blue in 2006 much like the rest of the country and it made some good Republican advances in 2010. One thing that may soften Democrats’ chances statewide is the surprising number of more business friendly measures Gov. Cuomo introduced, like property tax caps and taking a harder line on unions. I’m sure the unions are none too happy about losing an endless source of revenue.