Just over a year ago, Republicans in New York state flipped several congressional seats, helping usher in a GOP majority in the U.S. House. Now, a year out from the 2024 general election, groups aligned with Democrats see those same seats — in a state not always considered a battleground — as the key to reclaiming the House majority.
Labor organizations and political-activist groups have formed a coalition called Battleground New York to carry out what they say is “the largest field campaign in New York history.” Its aim is to claim five Republican-held House seats in congressional districts that Democrat Joe Biden won in 2020 and to hold on to another Democratic seat.
The coalition includes 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the Communications Workers of America District 1, Indivisible, Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts, and the Working Families Party. The coalition is being backed by the Democracy Alliance — one of the most powerful donor networks in liberal Democratic politics — and is getting off the ground with at least $10 million of funding.
Battleground New York is targeting New York Republican Reps. George Santos, Anthony D’Esposito, Michael Lawler, Marcus J. Molinaro and Brandon Williams. It is also working to maintain the Democratic hold on New York’s 18th Congressional District, where Rep. Pat Ryan is the incumbent.
The announcement comes on the heels of strong showings Tuesday by Democrats in off-year elections in Virginia, Kentucky and elsewhere. But Republicans point out that they scored wins Tuesday in a number of local New York elections, including races in counties represented by the House Republicans being targeted by the coalition.
Spokesmen for several of the targeted New York Republicans downplayed the coalition’s potential impact, saying the GOP incumbents have withstood attacks from outside groups in the past and are prepared to weather whatever may come.
The coalition, which boasts hundreds of thousands of members across the six districts it is targeting, kicks off its launch with events starting next week.
The operation will focus on establishing “a robust, door-to-door canvassing operation” for the 2024 races, Gabby Seay, a director of Battleground New York, told The Washington Post.
In a statement, Democracy Alliance president Pamela Shifman emphasized that the coalition is committed “to building the long-term infrastructure of the multi-racial working-class voter base in New York.”
The goal, the coalition says, is to make a million calls and door knocks in each district it is targeting, focusing on each House Republican’s record. Seay and coalition members say they will target Republicans on issues including health care, Social Security, abortion and support for House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.).
“These are extreme Republicans that when the choice has been made to them to choose New Yorkers, they have chosen Donald Trump and MAGA Republicans,” Seay said. “And we want to make sure that it is clear that New Yorkers have a choice in this election.”
Although Democrats thwarted a red wave during the 2022 midterm elections, Republicans gained enough seats in Congress to attain a narrow majority in the House. New York — where redistricting hurt Democrats, and where suburban fears about immigration and crime were a boon for Republicans — played a key role in handing the GOP the House majority.
The coalition, as well as other Democratic-aligned groups, identified the New York races early on as key to retaking the majority. And many say that after the 2022 elections, they learned that early engagement with voters in these districts is crucial.
“Part of the lesson that we drew was that we needed to build something much earlier and much more comprehensive,” said Helen Schaub, the interim political director of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East.
“I think there’s been this perception that you don’t have to worry about House races in New York, that there are some Republican districts, but [that] many of these swing districts will reliably go Democratic. Clearly, that wasn’t true,” she said. “And so we know we need to have a real grass-roots effort that reaches out to voters early and often to engage them and make sure they understand what’s at stake in the election.”
Although the groups in the coalition are not always on the same side in matters such as primaries, she continued, “we do agree now that we need to take back the House, and the way to do it is to focus on these districts.”
Maurice Mitchell, the national director of the Working Families Party, said groups in the coalition are starting their work early and “attempting to build … a broad, ‘big tent’ infrastructure in order to seize the victory in the general election.”
“Our job is to be part of the largest, most sophisticated and most coordinated get-out-the-vote effort in all of those districts,” Mitchell said of his party’s role in Battleground New York.
When asked for comment, New York House Republicans broadly asserted that Democrats were aiming to misrepresent their records in office.
“Congressman Lawler is no stranger to dark-money PACs spending millions lying about his bipartisan work on behalf of Hudson Valley residents,” said Chris Russell, a spokesman for Lawler’s congressional campaign. “With Mike’s approval rating almost 30 points higher than Republicans in Congress, these groups may as well pour the money down the Hudson or light it on fire. It would have the same effect on Congressman Lawler’s favorability rating as this ‘field campaign.’”
D’Esposito said in a statement it is no surprise that Democrats “would spend millions in a failing effort to distort my bipartisan record of protecting Nassau County neighbors’ communities and pocketbooks.”
Dave Catalfamo, an adviser to Molinaro’s campaign, dismissed the reach of the coalition. “It’s clear that no amount of spending” by a Democratic candidate’s “radical D.C. cocktail party friends” will ultimately decide the race, he said.
Beyond Battleground New York, other organizations backing Democrats say it is key to invest more and to invest earlier.
House Majority PAC, a super PAC focused on electing Democrats to the House, announced in March that it would commit $45 million to the New York races.
The month after the New York Republicans being targeted were sworn in, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee launched a billboard campaign aiming to tie them to Santos. It was the earliest the committee had put up billboards in the state, and it was part of broader efforts by the committee to start early messaging to voters.
Vulnerable New York House Republicans have found themselves defending their records during a tumultuous year for their conference. They have also sought to distance themselves from Santos, who has pleaded not guilty to 23 federal charges, including fraud, money laundering, falsifying records and aggravated identity theft.
This month, members of New York’s GOP congressional delegation led a failed effort to expel him from Congress. Santos subsequently said that if he were expelled, he still would seek reelection.