Raging like the battle for the local liberal soul that it actually is, the race between Joel Tyner and Julian Schreibman for the Democratic line for this fall’s 19th Congressional District seat in the House of Representatives will be decided this coming Tuesday, June 26.
There are a lot of different angles to this contest, for which Tyner has been preparing since last fall and which Schreibman has seemingly only acknowledged in the last week. Viewed from one perspective, it’s a mirror image of the angst the Tea Party has caused the Republicans: a more ideologically fervent candidate comes along to upset the establishment moderate’s apple cart by making the moderate expend money and energy that he thought he was going to save for the general election, with the fervent maybe even winning.
From another perspective, it’s about a guy with not a great deal of polish but all sorts of Occupy Wall Street-cred (Tyner’s been espousing progressive causes over on the other side of the river going on 20 years now, long before it was cool) taking on a guy who looks for all the world like Politics As Usual — lawyer, navy blue suit, backing from the local committees and national party, complete with slick mailings out-of-towners imported to help the campaign.
From yet another vantage point, it’s a story about how one election can swing the balance of power of the whole nation — who controls the House next year may well hinge on one or two seats — making the choice local Democrats will be posed with next week surprisingly important for a federal-level election in this state.
From yet still one more way of looking at it, it would seem to pose to the electorate a choice between voting for the guy they click with the most or the guy they think actually has a chance to beat the other party’s guy in the fall. (This argument, the “Tyner can’t win in a general election,” has been made in about every pro-Schreibman letter we’ve gotten.)
So what’s a Democrat to do? Let’s break down a few things. Tyner has made this race about fracking more than anything else, framing it as an ideological litmus test which he passes triumphantly but Schreibman maybe does not. That’s as may be but — and I hate to be the bearer of bad news — there will be hydraulic fracturing of the natural gas reserves Marcellus Shale in New York State, and there’s not a lot Congressman Tyner could do about it, other than continue to say how bad it is. In case you missed it, Gov. Cuomo floated the trial balloon, disguised as a “leak,” last week — it’ll be confined to the Southern Tier, and a town will have to want it to have it. (Some won’t, some will; the environmental degradation notwithstanding, there’s just too much money to be made by fracking. As we know in this country, money talks and all other considerations are secondary. Oh, the double-edged sword which is home rule.) So, you could say the fracking issue is a straw man, skillfully set up to motivate a local voter base which hates fracking tons, and also to draw some issues-based distinction between the two really-pretty-much-alike-in-their-views candidates. Whether that’s reprehensible or just good tactics, each voter will have to decide.
Another thing. There’s been a tone among some Ulster Dems that Tyner is being a bad sport by making Schreibman have a primary in the first place, and who the hell is this Dutchess person anyway, trying to horn in on Ulsterite Hinchey’s seat? Well, for one, that’s democracy for you, and for two — you can take my word as a Dutchess person on this — Julian Schreibman is as unfamiliar to Dutchess’ Dems as Joel Tyner is to Ulster’s. That I’ve gotten about five Schreibman flyers in my mailbox in the last week and a half points to the campaign’s late-breaking realization of this.
While Tyner may not come off at all like someone ready for the political prime time, he has done something Schreibman has not, yet: won elections. The county legislature district Tyner represents, like the county as a whole, isn’t particularly Democratically inclined; Tyner has won five times there by working hard and championing people-pleasing causes like tax reform and budget transparency. Schreibman hasn’t even been on the Marbletown Town Board and so far as I know, has never stood in an election in which people other than registered Democrats can actually vote. That’s not a disqualifier by any means, really, but it’s something to think about. Hinchey did a long spell in the state Assembly before he ever even got to Congress.
Going for Schreibman is the indisputable fact that he’s a smart guy, a hard worker (he put himself through Yale!) and presents better than Tyner. His campaign, helped along by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is a lot more together than Tyner’s. (Exhibit A is the meltdown with Tyner’s volunteer treasurer earlier this week, with subsequent sad and smarmy charges and countercharges.) Tyner’s DIY approach to electioneering has an organic, unpolished appeal and is A-OK for small-scale stuff, but to win on a higher level is going to take a much more organized approach — an approach Schreibman is much better equipped and funded to take.
None of the above is meant to be an endorsement of either candidate, or even a suggestion of an endorsement. I and other Ulster Publishing personnel have met with both candidates and this election has been at the top of the newsroom-conjecturing agenda for the last month or so. I still haven’t decided who I’m voting for Tuesday.
My guess? Schreibman will win, especially now that he’s putting is back into it. I was not saying that two weeks ago, when Schreibman was still taking a “whistling past the graveyard” tack, barely acknowledging that there was even actually a primary in the first place. But, the small turnout one would expect in a non-seasonal one-off kind of a primary may well make this race more suspenseful than one would expect, so don’t be stunned if this goes to absentee ballots or if Tyner pulls off an upset.
But whoever does win is going to have his work cut out for him, and how. Chris Gibson’s already got $1 million in his campaign kitty and I expect the GOP will make this race at least as large a priority as the DCCC has. The attempt to paint Gibson as a tinfoil-hat-wearing Tea Party extremist isn’t going to stick; yes, he voted for the Ryan budget and has signed the Norquist tax pledge, but he’s a decorated Army veteran, a colonel in the Rangers, holds a Ph.D. and comes off as a pretty moderate and sensible guy. (Next time Chartock interviews Gibson on WAMC, note how much Chartock seems to respect him.) In 2010, admittedly a big year for the GOP, Gibson wiped the floor with Scott Murphy, a polished, accomplished, moderate Democrat reminiscent of … Julian Schreibman. Assuming that Obama will carry New York but not with the same numbers as he did in ’08 — because, let’s face it, people are not going to be as excited about voting for him as they were four years ago — the president’s coattails, if any, may not be long enough to get the Democrat through.
So, to look at it from one final angle, Tuesday’s primary, and the race which preceded it, is a crucible to toughen up the winner for a hard fight ahead.