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Rep. Richard Hanna (R. Utica, NY-22). Photo: US Congress
Rep. Richard Hanna (R. Utica, NY-22). Photo: US Congress

In NY22, Republican Hanna withstands tea party challenge

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On Tuesday voters across the North Country went to the polls and decided the outcome of the 21st district Republican primary. Elise Stefanik won that race by a handy margin, beating Watertown businessman Matt Doheny.

But there was another House race Tuesday that we haven't talked about yet.
The 22nd district includes a chunk of our listeners in the southwestern corner of the Adirondacks and a piece of Herkimer County.

In that race, incumbent GOP Representative Richard Hanna from Utica beat a tea party backed primary challenger, Republican Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney.

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Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

Brian Mann joined Martha Foley to talk about that race.

Martha Foley: Brian, it sounds like the 22nd district fight was even more bitter than the one here in the 21st.

Brian Mann: Yeah, it was pretty ugly. Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney came at Richard Hanna, who owns a large construction company, very hard with kind of the same message that we've heard from other tea party challengers across the country. Hanna is a businessman with a fairly moderate voting record. He supports marriage rights for gays and lesbians and is pro-choice. Tenney argued that Hanna was too liberal to serve as a Republican and a lot of GOP voters shared that view. Hanna won by a 53 to 47 percent margin. That's pretty tight for a sitting congressman in a primary.

MF: There was a lot of ugliness down there. Richard Hanna actually refused to debate Claudia Tenney. How come?

BM: He argue that she had simply distorted his record too far and was refusing to talk about the issues honestly. Obviously Tenney disputes that characterization. But that level of rancor gives you a sense for just how deep the divides are still between these wings of the GOP in some parts of New York.

MF: One interesting issue in the 22nd district primary is that there was a huge amount of outside group spending. In that race, Super PACs spent hundreds of thousands of dollars attacking Claudia Tenney and supporting Richard Hanna.

BM: That's right. Tenney sent around a text message this week really crying foul. One of the groups spending big to oppose her is a pro-gay rights Super PAC. Another group spending big was supported by the Oneida Indian Nation with a 100-thousand dollar donation — that's according to the Syracuse Post Standard. Tenney suggested that those outside groups "bought the race" for Richard Hanna.

MF: Okay, let's talk about this issue for just a moment. Here in the 21st district as well, Matt Doheny who lost on Tuesday is blaming the outcome on these third party groups. In his case, Karl Rove's group American Crossroads spent heavily to support his opponent Elise Stefanik. In an email yesterday, Doheny claimed that the Super PAC's involvement "simply changed the outcome." Is it possible that in these House races, these third party groups are having that kind of impact.

BM: In close political contests, the infusion of hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars worth of attack ads is going to be factor, no doubt about it. And I think we're still understanding how these Supreme Court decisions allowing essentially unlimited amounts of money into the political process will affect our politics. And that affect could be amplified in these relatively low turn-out votes, like Tuesday's primary, where it's mostly the party faithful going to the polls. So I think it is a factor worth looking at. But I think it's also important to note that in Doheny's case, he lost by a significant margin and was also facing some other big headwinds, including the get-out-the-vote effort by county leaders.

MF: Going back to the 22nd district briefly, am I right that the Democrats didn't even field a candidate in that race?

BM: That's right. And this is kind of an astonishing thing in what has been viewed as a swing district, a district that Democrats held just a few years ago. After the high water mark of a few years ago, when Democrats had really swept aside Republicans in New York House seats, the GOP is looking much stronger this year. They've clearly given up on the 22nd district at least for now and Democrats have a very tough fight on their hands to hold the 21st district in November thanks in large part to Bill Owens (D-Plattsburgh) surprise retirement.

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