In the season of Donald Trump, how will a traditional Republican — tough but polite, fiscally conservative — fare in an election here in New York? We’re about to find out in our 19th Congressional District.
That’s where John Faso, who headed the Republican ticket for governor in 2006, is running for Congress. It’s his bid for a comeback after getting steamrollered by Eliot Spitzer, who resigned in disgrace.
I’ve always thought Mr. Faso’s loss in 2006 was a tragedy for New York (imagine how history might have been different). And one would think the 19th Congressional District would be an easy win for Mr. Faso.
A former Assembly minority leader, Mr. Faso has lived in the district (in the town of Kinderhook) for 33 years along with his wife, Mary Frances. The retiring incumbent, Republican Chris Gibson, has endorsed him.
Zephyr Teachout, Mr. Faso’s opponent, has no long-time connection to the upstate district in which she’s running. She’s a carpetbagger, having registered to vote there only in January. “She makes Bernie Sanders look like Sean Hannity,” Mr. Faso says.
Ms. Teachout emerged as what the Huffington Post has called a “progressive icon” after her challenge to incumbent Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic gubernatorial primary in 2014. She captured 34 percent of the vote.
So suddenly the race for the 19th Congressional District is being closely watched in an election in which control of the House of Representatives could well be in play. No wonder Bernie Sanders has pitched in with e-mail fund-raising appeals.
Huge money has poured into Ms. Teachout’s campaign. In the latest quarter, she raked in something like $1.1 million, coming from 40,000 donors around the nation. Mr. Faso says she’s likely to outspend him between now and November.
Yet even while Ms. Teachout is hauling in the big bucks, she wants to force much-put-upon taxpayers to fund elections. She quotes herself on her Web site as arguing that “private campaign financing has essentially pre-corrupted our politicians.”
Things have reached the point, she contends, where politicians “can’t even recognize explicit bribery because it feels the same as what they do every day.” To which I would say, “speak for yourself.”
Mr. Faso tells me that what Ms. Teachout really wants to do is water down the First Amendment to “give the government more control over political speech.” She’s also fighting to lock down government control over education.
In her view, charter schools, which Mr. Faso championed when he was in the Assembly, are the privatization of education. She seeks to expand socialism, and if she gets into the House, the infection will spread.
The big issue in the 19th CD is taxes and jobs in an upstate economy that has never recovered from 2008. Nor even, Mr. Faso says, from the eight-month recession that started in 1990. In the past decade, he reminds me, upstate New York’s population has plunged by a million people.
“People are leaving because of high taxes and few jobs,” Mr. Faso says. Donald Trump worked these issues during his own Republican primary campaign in the state, but Mr. Faso’s formula for addressing them is different from Mr. Trump’s.
Mr. Faso, who won the Republican primary with 68% of the vote, eschews protectionism. Nor is he stirring the immigration issue. He focuses, instead, on the lack of growth. Hence his career-long focus on tax cuts and deregulation.
What Mr. Faso knows is that there’s no record anywhere of socialism ever solving the unemployment and stagnation that has beset upstate. The irony, I’d add, is that Ms. Teachout is relying on the very campaign lucre she supposedly despises.
Will it work? The 19th Congressional District voted twice for President Obama, but two years ago, Chris Gibson, the retiring Republican, won by 60,000 votes. In the gubernatorial race against Cuomo, Republican Rob Astorino carried the district by 30,000 votes.
That was before Hillary Clinton’s entente with the Sanders-Warren socialists and before the triumph of Mr. Trump. So all eyes are on Mr. Faso’s fight, a test of whether Republicanism as we once knew it can thrive in what should be its most inviting habitat.
“My view,” Mr. Faso tells me, “is that this is going to be a neck and neck race right to the end.”
This column first appeared in the New York Post.