He’s a Rare House Republican in a District Trump Lost. Can He Hold On?
Representative John Katko has managed to keep his seat in Central New York by distancing himself from the president. Will that be enough this year?
By Luis Ferré-Sadurní
Two years ago, a pair of House Republicans in Central New York became prime targets for the Democratic Party, which had hoped to unseat them in the midterm elections by exploiting voters’ unhappiness with President Trump.
The strategy partially worked: Claudia Tenney, a staunch Republican defender of Mr. Trump, was defeated by Anthony Brindisi, a Democrat. But Representative John M. Katko, a more moderate Republican, managed to hold off his Democratic challenger, Dana Balter.
All four candidates are back this year, and Mr. Trump seems even more of a divisive force now than in the midterm elections — a factor that Democrats hope will push Ms. Balter to victory in the 24th Congressional District this time around.
The district, anchored in the city of Syracuse and dotted with farmlands and university towns, was one of the few House districts in the country whose voters favored Hillary Clinton in 2016, but which Republicans still hold.
“My overall sense is that people here are less interested in what party you’re affiliated with than they are interested in who are you fighting for, whose side are you on,” said Ms. Balter, a community organizer and former Syracuse University professor.
“One of the reasons that Congressman Katko had been successful in holding onto this seat is that he’s been masquerading as a moderate for years,” she added.
Indeed, Mr. Katko often references his history of working across party lines. He has voted for most Republican priorities, but he was one of 20 Republicans to vote against a G.O.P. bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2017. In 2019, he was ranked the second most bipartisan member of Congress, according to an index released by the nonprofit Lugar Center and Georgetown University.
“That’s a remarkable record and I’m very proud of that, because that’s what this district wants,” Mr. Katko, a former federal prosecutor, said during an October debate. “I’m a centrist and a moderate, and I respect my opponent for her tenacity, but she is a far-left person and she just doesn’t fit this district.”
Mr. Katko’s campaign did not make the congressman available for an interview.
His moderate stances have enabled him to claim an unusual distinction: Mr. Katko’s district is now the only Democratic-leaning House district in the country to be held by a Republican, according to the Cook Partisan Voter Index, which measures how strongly a district leans toward either party.
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