I was told this was the election of a lifetime. My generation needed to take back the House and stop Trump. That’s what people said, but I wanted to find out for myself. I started taking a look around social media, and it immediately seemed like more people than ever were invested in midterm politics. All of a sudden it appeared there was a chance for our generation to make its mark and show that there is a resistance to Trump, to show the other side of America.
The Election 2016 disaster was a wakeup call for organizers and strategists. Lower turnout rates and apathy were largely to blame, as they always are. Many of our elected officials are in their 70’s because people from 70–80 vote more than anyone else. I guess they have more time on their hands to sit around and watch cable news. Most are retired and have plenty of time to get to the polls. I have friends that are apathetic but this year there was no excuse.
Believe it or not, older people tend to be more traditional and conservative; mind-blowing right? Republicans don’t want the youth to care. If the turnout numbers were reversed, we would have one of the most progressive governments in the world right now.He just wasn’t that interested in interacting with the community and he closed many district offices that had been open under Representative Gibson.
I had the chance to drive across the country visiting swing districts this past summer. I don’t really know what I was looking for, the “Real America” — or maybe just people like me.
I know there are certain values held by most people of my generation. I tried to categorize the people I would talk to as Millennials, but that seemed like a hollow term. Gen Z is too young, Millenials are too old. It’s more of a feeling. There are kids out there who haven’t been corrupted by politics as we know it today. They think rationally about the future and the kind of country they want to live in. It’s a kind of patriotism that goes unappreciated by our elders. The Boomers are always talking about how lazy and braindead we are. I think that’s just their hope. They can live out the rest of lives plundering the planet while we stare into our phones and consume.
I was inspired by the people I met on my trip. The candidates themselves tended to be younger and their staff close to my age (22). I have a lot more in common with a 40 year old than I do with a 70 year old. Things like the climate, basic human rights and income inequality are big for my generation across the board. We are going to be responsible for reversing the damage that has been done to the earth and to our country’s reputation globally.
The pollsters came out early with a list of the toss up congressional districts. The past tells us that the party that holds the White House tends to lose seats in the first post-presidential midterm. From the beginning pundits were calling for a “blue wave”. Democratic operatives were sure of some kind of gain. 2016 was so shocking because so many of Obama’s districts flipped to Trump. NY19, a sprawling, diverse area north of NYC, was one of these districts. For districts like NY19, the main question was why did voters flip? Was Hillary that bad of a candidate or did Trump’s win indicate a real change in the electorate?
The 19th is a huge district the size of some small states. Most of the population lives in the Hudson Valley ,which is made up of Dutchess and Ulster Counties, including towns like Kingston, Woodstock, Rhinebeck, and further south, New Paltz. This is the district’s Democratic stronghold, an amalgam of ex-city-dwellers, hippies, and university students.
A good portion of the district is taken up by the sparsely populated Catskills. Beyond the mountains, exists a different kind of population. A slew of reliably conservative, traditional counties wind up the Hudson and all the way around Albany through Rensselaer County. Incumbent John Faso needed these rural districts to support him, including his hometown of Kinderhook in northern Columbia County.
The 19th is purple because of its proximity to New York City. People have been steadily coming up from the city for decades, either to vacation or to stay. At the same time, conservatives in the 19th have been fleeing to states that share their conservative values and have lower taxes. New York is a fully blue state now and some Conservatives have deemed it a lost cause.
The rural nature of the district still comes into play in a lot of ways. The Second Amendment is important to people in both parties up there. Owning a gun for a farmer or rural citizen can be a way of life and a necessity for hunting and self-defense. Democrats running for seats in Congress or the State Senate in districts like the 19th have to move to the center on a number of issues like guns. It’s important for my generation that candidates are firm in their convictions, but pragmatism isn’t lost on us.
Antonio Delgado was successful at staying on message and away from angering potential voters. He hit the health care issue hard. He denied supporting medicare for all, but he understood what accessibility meant to people in his rural district. Many people have trouble even getting to a hospital because so many have shut down Faso did not help himself by becoming the deciding vote to gut the ACA. The Delgado campaign and the DCCC mercilessly held it against him. The Democratic base in the 19th never forgave him for it.
The election began with a crowded Democratic primary featuring many qualified local candidates. Things got started very early in January, 2017, but preparations began in truth November 7th 2016. The robust primary campaigns of people like Gareth Rhodes, Pat Ryan, and Jeff Beals gave the staffers experience and the candidates time to develop their stances. The drawn out primary engaged voters early and gave time for the grassroots campaigns to energize the youth and the disaffected. There was a monumental turnout in the Democratic primary, especially in the Ulster and Columbia County strongholds.
Voter turnout nationally was tremendous for a midterm year at 31 percent. In the 19th, youth turnout was even higher. In Ulster County 18–21 year olds turned out at 45 percent. The number goes down to 41 percent for the 22–24 demographic, showing the impact campus organizations had.
A surprising Delgado win in very Red Otsego County and a close call in Sullivan County demonstrated the force of the Delgado victory. A small Faso margin of victory in deeply red counties showed the extent of his failure to deliver. In 2018, Faso got 40,000 less total votes than 2016. Faso certainly spent very little time courting the youth vote. It’s tough to win by depending on straight party line votes, particularly when turnout is a huge factor.
The resistance to Trump generated a ground game that was operating independently before the primaries. Young Democrat organizations at schools and at the county level were fired up by the non-stop antics of the Trump White House.
Every Friday for what was dubbed Faso Friday, protestors picketed in front of the congressman’s district offices, expressing their displeasure and calling him out for his support of Trump. After the primary, once Delgado was a clear winner, all of these people came behind him, including people who ran against him. They knew he would need all of their help to win.hey were right.
Many volunteers and staffers on 2018 campaigns got their start working for Bernie or other previous Democratic candidates for Congress in the district, like Zephyr Teachout and Sean Eldridge. These people are part of a new progressive movement within the Democratic party that puts an emphasis on grassroots organization and small donations.
Delgado was part of this new wave of progressives; that’s why he connected with more Millenials/GenZ who were inspired by Bernie’s populist energy. How to stop voter apathy? Talk about issues people care about like climate change. The environment is at the forefront of the new Democrat platform, especially in such a naturally beautiful district like the 19th.
The media has missed the real story in the 19th because they were so distracted by the race issue. Is the media itself being racist by constantly running the same stories for an easy headline? Delgado was doing and saying a lot that was newsworthy, but he was stuck in a region without a major media market. Much of his work and speeches went unreported and uncovered. The media could have been focusing on the young volunteers and organizers that were knocking on doors and engaging voters. The national media especially was guilty of oversimplifying the race. The race story overshadowed the size of the effort undertaken to increase voter turnout and participation.
The “big city liberal” boogeyman is constantly used by upstate New York politicians to scare people away from Democratic candidates. Faso and his ads tried and failed to label Delgado a socialist carpetbagger. Delgado fought off the accusations. He was a kid from Schenectady who made good and had returned to faithfully serve the people of the district.
Hudson Valley Votes, an organization started by Woodstock natives Liam Kahn and Jasmine Kay, helped register and intrigue young voters in the district. By election day, over 300 new voters were registered by the organization in Ulster County alone. They focused on campuses like SUNY New Paltz, Bard, and SUNY Oneonta, high school seniors were also targeted. The Delgado campaign took notice of the importance of these youth centers and Delgado spent a lot of his campaign talking to students across the district.
Meetings of the Hudson Valley Votes subgroup , the Youth Voter Core, were held at the Rock Academy music school near Woodstock. Candidates and activists came to speak with the kids for feedback and inspiration. Their focus was on involvement and education, not indoctrination. Music and arts were incorporated into a celebrity laced event that generated a lot of buzz and interest among all different kinds of voters. The “Concert and Rally to Take Back the Hudson Valley” as it was called, featured likeable characters and locals like actor Paul Rudd and singer Natalie Merchant. Delgado spoke at the rally to tremendous applause. Those who followed Delgado since the primary were able to watch a politician develop before their eyes. He looked more confident and spoke more succinctly on a list of issues and rhetoric. He smiled because he felt the energy in the room, they liked him, they would support him with their wallets and their votes.
Victory Party/The End
Faso For Congress Rally:
The night before election day in Kinderhook, back in a different world. Trucks with Faso signs and their headlights on, pointed at the stage. A rainy, cold, dark night, it did not feel like an atmosphere of victory. Faso won’t give in and become Trumpian; the crowd wants him to. There are young people here but not that many and they’re with their parents. Where are the young Republican citizens? The one young Faso supporter I’ve interacted with was a intern, basically a spokesmen.
Let’s be honest, there’s nothing inspiring about the status quo and there was certainly nothing inspiring about the Faso campaign. He couldn’t motivate the Trump base and he ticked off the Democratic base, so they got organized against him. He never condemned or distanced himself from the NRCC ads that many deemed racist. He tried to stay bipartisan till the end; the best he could do for the Trumpians among the audience was the bring up the evil Nancy Pelosi to brief jeers.
Election Night is Here:
The gathered democratic candidates, supporters, and organizers in Kingston on election night represented all of the work of the last year and a half. Things started off with a nice win locally. Juan Figueroa became Sheriff in Ulster County with the backing of many progressive groups, including Hudson Valley Votes. By the time Delgado came in after they announced his victory, the room was in a frenzy. It was all coming together.
For a couple days before election day, it had started to feel like a Delgado win was expected in the 19th. The pressure began to build on election night as Democrats appeared to lose a number of key races. Antonio Delgado was one of the success stories of the 2018 midterms because of the tremendous network that supported him, including a new generation of voters, staffers, and volunteers.