Too close to call in 22nd District Brindisi, Tenney separated by less than 1 percent; thousands of absentee ballots yet to be counted

Published Nov 7, 2018 at 12:00pm

UTICA -- Democratic Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi claimed victory late Tuesday against first-term Republican incumbent Claudia Tenney in New York’s 22nd Congressional district, even though the two were separated by fewer than 1,500 votes and absentee and other outstanding ballots remained to be counted.

Brindisi celebrated in a downtown hotel ballroom packed with supporters, volunteers and campaign staff. Just a few miles down Genesee Street, Tenney also gathered with her supporters but declined to concede.

With all 565 election districts reporting close to midnight, Brindisi had 117,779 votes to Tenney’s 116,357, a 1,422 margin of less than six tenths of a percent.

“We want every vote to be counted ... we want every ballot to be counted, but we’re very confident that when we see the absentees come back they’re gonna break very similar to what the current vote totals show and we think the margins are safe enough for us that we’re gonna be victorious,” Brindisi said in a brief interview after celebrating and addressing the enthusiastic crowd of supporters.

As returns came in, Brindisi jumped out to an early lead. Returns  shown at about 9:30 p.m. on one of the television sets in the ballroom at the Delta Hotel, formerly the Radisson, prompting cheers among the gathering group excited to see a 53 percent to 48 percent lead.

Then at about 10:55 a celebration erupted in one corner. ABC had called the race for Brindisi.

Many in the crowd began chanting, “One-term Tenney, one-term Tenney.”

The candidate emerged about 10 minutes later and took the podium, his family and key campaign staff behind him, Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed Delivered” on the sound system.

“Who’s ready to go to Washington with me?” Brindisi asked to cheers.

Brindisi thanked volunteers, who had made a last-weekend and last-minute push canvassing and getting out late voters right up to the closing of polls at 9 p.m., much of it in the rain. He thanked college students who volunteered on the campaign, singling out two nieces at Binghamton University. Brindisi repeated campaign themes of pledging to put working people ahead of special interests, to protect health care and people with pre-existing conditions, and to work for campaign finance reform.

Later he pledged to accept workable ideas from Republicans and President Donald Trump -- who won the 22nd District with more than 55 percent of the vote in 2016 -- and to reach out to all voters, not just those who voted for him.

“This is not the time to settle scores,” he told the celebrants. “Let’s roll up our sleeves, go to Washington and serve this community. And boy, we have a lot of work to do, right?”

On the other end of Genesee Street, at around 11:30, Rep. Tenney did not concede the race, but gave a speech that implied her defeat.

“It’s a sad day that we’re not up in this race right now, it’s a bummer,” Tenney told supporters gathered at Tom Cavallo’s Restaurant in New Hartford. “I’m not going to concede,” she said to applause.

“I haven’t lost yet, we haven’t lost yet, it’s very close, there’s still some precincts out. Unfortunately, the margins, I don’t know if it’ll be enough to take us over the top,” she explained. “I’m not sure about the absentees.”

Much of Tenney’s speech lamented the results that she would not officially recognize. “I’m concerned about the way our country’s going, I’m concerned about our patriotism,” she said.

“We’re going to stand and fight another day, I’m not sure exactly how yet,” she said of her political future. “Maybe 2020,” she said in response to inquiring supporters.

In closing her election night remarks, Tenney again seemed to imply her defeat. “Don’t walk out with your heads down, this is another day, it’s another day,” she told supporters. “It’s another battle, the war is still on.”

Following her speech, Tenney staffers ignored requests for clarification as to whether the congresswoman had conceded the race.

However, at around 12:30, staff released a statement attributed to campaign manager Raychel Renna.

“With over ten thousand absentee ballots left to count, the race is still too close to call,” the statement read. “Over the next few days and weeks our team will participate in the re-canvass process and review the absentee ballots.”

If the results hold up, Brindisi will have defeated an incumbent Republican in a district where the party has an enrollment advantage and where his opponent, also a former member of the New York Assembly from the Mohawk Valley, received in-person campaign help from the incumbent president, two of his sons, and other high-profile Republicans.

The 22nd District includes all of Oneida, Madison, Chenango, Oswego and Cortland counties, southern Herkimer County, part of Tioga County and most of Broome County, including Binghamton.

Brindisi won the district’s largest population centers, Oneida and the 22nd’s portion of Broome County, around Binghamton, 50 to 48 percent and 55 to 43 percent. He also won Cortland County, 54.5 to 44 percent, while losing Madison, Chenango and the parts of the other counties. Tenney won Oswego County handily, with almost 63 percent of the vote.  

The race was considered a toss-up with independent polls finding the candidates separated by less than their margins of error, at times as little as one percentage point separating them. This was despite a nearly 42 percent to 35 percent enrollment advantage for Republicans. About 20 percent of the district is not enrolled in a party, according to the state Board of Elections.

Brindisi officially announced his candidacy in June 2017, seven months after Tenney was elected to her first term.

Both received extensive out-of-district contributions as the race was considered loseable by Republicans and winnable by Democrats hoping to win the majority and thus control of the House of Representatives. In the third quarter alone, the two combined for nearly $3 million in direct fundraising.

Tenney’s campaign had $769,396 cash on hand at the end of the quarter, Sept. 30. The campaign raised $771,757 and spent $1,029,62 during the quarter.

Brindisi had $837,372 cash on hand at quarter’s end after raising $1.423,966 and spending $2,018,952 July 1 through Sept. 30.

Television viewers throughout the district saw heavy advertising by both candidates and by political action committees on their behalf through the summer, fall and especially in the final weekend before voting.

Tenney also got personal appearances from the Trump family. President Donald Trump appeared at an August rally at a hotel in downtown Utica in August, then son Eric Trump rallied with her in New Hartford in October, and Donald Trump Jr. joined a rally Monday evening, with White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders and National Rifle Association Oliver North also visiting on Tenney’s behalf.

Brindisi, meanwhile, won endorsements from some Republicans, including former members of Congress Sherwood Boehlert and Richard Hanna.