With the relatively sudden announcement Sunday, December 20, 2015, by Rep. Richard Hanna that he will retire instead of seeking re-election, Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney has become the front-runner in the race for the New York 22nd Congressional seat. Rep. Hanna is expected to make an official statement on Monday, but video of his retirement has already been release.
Rep. Richard Hanna has been under consistent pressure since the NY-22 was redistricted in 2012. It was in 2012 that New York had to redraw the congressional districts due to losses in population – a consistent process of elimination of political power for the State going back to the 1960’s. Previously the NY-24 was centered around Oneida County, with the NY-22 gerrymandered to protect then-Rep. Maurice Hinchey in the Southern Tier. After the redictricting the region was combined into one district encompassing all or part of 8 Counties: Broome, Chenango, Cortland, Herkimer, Madison, Oneida, Oswego, and Tioga.
Rep. Hanna has been challenged in each re-election since his win in the NY-24 in 2010. Since 2012 on the Republican ticket Rep. Hanna has always faced opposition. Democrats also provided a challenge in 2012, but failed to field a candidate in 2014, making the Republican primary the de facto election.
Rep. Richard Hanna had been rumored to be considering retiring or switching Party affiliation since his narrow win versus Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney in 2014. He has consistently voted against Republican Party values on several hot button issues which drew regional and national attention. Besides votes in favor of abortion; to fund Planned Parenthood with taxpayer dollars; unlimited increases to the national debt ceiling; and a pursuit to provide foreign workers with an increased number of American jobs via H-1b and H-2b visas, his time in elected office may be best known for his repeated attacks against the Republican Party and support of Democrats.
The attacks against fellow Republicans resulted in a record of 33 Bills being sponsored by Rep. Hanna, with only 3 gaining enough support to become laws – naming a Post Office and 2 baseball coin laws. Still the straw to break the camel’s back was likely the support of Hillary Clinton this year, just prior to her appearance before the congressional Benghazi Commission. Rep. Hanna was made a national poster boy for the Clinton defense of her actions related to consulate attack that claimed 4 American lives, including an American Ambassador.
Since October, speculation grew that Rep. Hanna would either join the Democrats or retire as his ability to overcome a challenge by Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney diminished. Assemblywoman Tenney announced her intention to run for Congress in November, and is the only declared candidate in the race for either Party at this time. In 2014, Assemblywoman Tenney entered the Republican Primary late, won several counties but lost by only 2,000 votes. Thus far she has already gained the endorsement of Citizens United for the 2016 election,
“Assemblywoman Tenney is a pro-small business, pro-Second Amendment, pro-life conservative reformer who will be an effective leader in New York’s 22nd congressional district.” – David N. Bossie, President of Citizens United
With the announcement of Rep. Hanna retiring, speculation of other Republican challengers is running rampant. While none of the names floating in the background are known throughout the district they do include George Phillips of Broome County; Catherine Bertini of Cortland County; Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente, Jr.; and Oswego County Clerk Michael Backus. Phillips had previously ran for the NY-22 when the seat was held by Democrat Rep. Maurice Hinchey in 2010. Backus lost his position as Oswego County Republican chairman in 2015. Equally unclear is if any of the Republican challengers will take up the “moderate” mantle that Rep. Hanna wore as a shield for his tenure.
Opportunists seeking the now open seat are not limited to just Republicans. Democrats are equally jostling for the nomination. Thus far Dan Gordon, an Oneida County legislator, has announced he is exploring a run for the Democrat nomination. This came at the same time that Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi initially announced his interest in running before backtracking his stance. Broome County Democrat Chairman James Testani has said that any Democrat announcement will occur in January.
The potential result from these new challengers is having a big impact on the outlook of the race. According to Nathan L. Gonzales of RollCall.com,
“It will take some time for the dust to settle on both sides, but the competitive nature of the district, the uncertain Republican presidential primary, and Hanna’s absence, makes the race very competitive. We’re changing the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call rating from Safe Republican to Pure Tossup.”
In the end, the definitive decision of Rep. Hanna to exit the 2016 election has placed his strongest opponent, Claudia Tenney in the front-runner position. But that definitive action has created more questions for voters than it has resolved. Will Republicans rally to the only announced candidate who nearly won the district in 2014? Will challenges from unknown Republican challengers splinter the vote and give the edge to Democrats? Will Democrats decide who is running and if they will have challenges in their ranks? Most of all, when will anyone face the front-runner Claudia Tenney and the public?