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Antonio Delgado Makes History

Democrat Antonio Delgado has defeated Republican incumbent John Faso to become the first African American ever to represent upstate New York in Congress.

Delgado tapped into progressive fury and energy to pull off a hard-fought victory in a red-leaning district
Antonio Delgado for Congress

Riding the blue wave to victory last night, Democrat Antonio Delgado has defeated Republican incumbent John Faso in New York’s 19th district. Delgado, an attorney from Rhinebeck, will become the first African American member of Congress from upstate New York, as well as its first Hispanic representative.

After narrowly emerging victorious from a crowded primary field in June, Delgado once again secured victory by a slim margin tonight. He was leading Faso by 3.8 points at 11:00pm, with 80% of precincts reporting, when CNN projected his victory. When all the votes are tallied, it is unlikely his margin of victory will surpass single digits. Nonetheless, in a district that voted for Donald Trump by 7 points and John Faso by 10 points in 2016, Delgado has prompted an impressive swing.

Going into the final stretch, the race appeared to be a dead heat, with Delgado ever-so-slightly favored. The last polls of NY19 showed the two candidates neck-and-neck; a Siena College/New York Times poll earlier this month showed Delgado leading by just 1 point and a Survey USA poll in late October showed the race tied, while Monmouth showed Delgado leading by 5 points. All three pollsters get A ratings from FiveThirtyEight. The national implications of this race cannot be understated. NY19 was a pivotal seat for Democrats in their hopes to recapture the majority in the House of Representatives for the first time in nearly a decade. This favorable result follows a trend of Democrats picking up crucial tossups throughout the night, and may presage further good news for them as votes from the West Coast start to come in For now, however, what we can say for sure is that Democrats are one step closer to a majority.

Who is Antonio Delgado?

Delgado was born to working-class parents in Schenectady, a city just north of the district. He described his parents as having “secure predictable incomes,” who “overtime worked [their] way up from working class to middle class.” He credits them with his rise through academia, law and, now, politics.

He studied politics and philosophy at Colgate University– also just north of the district–where he played college basketball with future Golden State Warrior Adonal Foyle. He went on to play in the 1996 NCAA championships and was inducted into the Upstate New York Basketball hall of fame earlier this year.

After graduating with honors from Colgate, he secured a prestigious Rhodes Scholarships and studied PPE at Oxford University. Returning stateside, he attended Harvard Law School where he met his wife Lacey Schwartz Delgado, a filmmaker whose production “Little White Lie” explores the complicated racial nature of her parentage.

From Law School, Delgado pivoted to something wildly different: rap music. After moving to Los Angeles, Delgado adopted the moniker AD The Voice. In an interview, he said his music–which was condemned by Faso and his Republican allies as profane and offensive–was meant to “broaden people’s minds about the genre and the scope of hip-hop by infusing elements of orchestral and classical music.”

Following that venture, Delgado made use of his law degree by becoming an associate at LA law firm Brian D. Witzer. In 2011 he moved back to the east coast, settling in the cozy NYC suburb of Montclair, New Jersey and practicing working at Akin Gump, a high powered law firm that has produced several prominent politicians including several members of congress.

The path to Congress

Delgado says that his decision to run was prompted by Donald Trump’s victory in 2016: “When Trump won, he certainly made my wife and I sit down and think about our own individual lives.” He moved from New Jersey back to the Hudson Valley in February 2017, and soon after began preparing for a congressional run.

In June 5, Delgado joined an already-crowded field of Democrats running to unseat Faso, declaring “It’s time to bring a new set of priorities to Washington and put the American Dream back in reach for families in the Hudson Valley and Catskills.” The primary was a relatively sedentary one, with candidates mostly focusing their attentions on policy, Trump, and Faso, while avoiding attacks on each other.

Delgado was typically seen as one of the more centrist candidates in the field, namely for his stance on healthcare. Whereas most of his opponents supported a progressive Medicare-for-all plan–a proposal touted by Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders–Delgado and Pat Ryan backed a slightly more mainstream proposal of achieving universal coverage through fixes to the affordable care act. Nevertheless, Delgado is still firmly progressive and was aligned with his opponents on most other areas policy.

After outspending all his competitors, Delgado won the primary with 22% of the vote, edging out his closest opponents Gareth Rhodes, who won 17.9%, and Pat Ryan, who won 17.7%. Delgado ran up the score in heavily populated Ulster County, as well as his home county of Dutchess, the second largest vote share in the district. He also won Schoharie and Montgomery counties, while taking second place in all but one other county.

Faso, who hadn’t chimed in much during the primary–save for a few attacks on Jeff Beals, arguably the most left-wing, anti-establishment candidate–put out a press release shortly after Delgado’s victory, attacking him as a carpetbagger and a liberal who was out of step with the district’s values. Delgado, for his part, did not hold back.

The final showdown

Delgado was quick to take swipes at Faso’s presence in the district. This became a key factor in the campaign following Faso’s controversial decision not to hold a town hall–and neighboring congressman Sean Maloney’s decision to “adopt” NY19 for a day, holding a town hall in his stead–in the heat of the national battle over Obamacare. “The man has somehow earned the nickname no-show,” he said of Faso, “and to me, that is a very unfortunate outcome. Your job is to show up, your job is to fight for the people of your district.”

Delgado also attacked Faso frequently and consistently on his decision to vote for the unpopular AHCA, the Republican proposal to repeal and replace the comparatively popular Affordable Care Act. In their first general election ad, Delgado’s campaign highlighted Faso’s broken promise to Andrea Mitchell, a woman with a brain tumor who demanded that Faso not take away her health care.

Faso decided to direct his attacks further below the belt, focusing not on Delgado’s policies but on the content of his rap music. Faso described the lyrics–which contain profanity and iconoclastic attacks on America’s legacy of “white supremacy”–as “inconsistent with the views of the people of the 19th District and America.” The New York Times Editorial Board later derided Faso’s condemnations as “race-baiting.”

But that didn’t stop Faso and Republican groups from waging an all-out assault on the subject. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund, released numerous ads attacking the lyrics–including one which quoted Chronogram’s words out of context–as did the NRCC. Rather than helping Faso, these ads actually precipitated a dip in his polling numbers. It could be argued that they helped put Delgado over the top.

During debates, Delgado arguably got the upper hand on Faso–who was sometimes even combative with the audience, who he described as a “mob”–in most clashes. That said, Delgado did have at least one gaffe of his own when he stated “Israel is not a Jewish democracy.” He later walked back that comment, following it up with an interview with Israeli newspaper Haaretz, in which he and his wife discussed her Jewish background and the presence of Judaism in their household.

Another factor in the race was third party candidates. At first, there was a wide array of third-party candidates seeking to join the fray, from an author to a school board member to a social worker. However, following legal challenges to many candidates’ ballot petitions, the third-party field was whittled down to just two: Green Party Candidate Steve Greenfield, and progressive independent Diane Neal, star of Law and Order SVU. While it was thought that the two might play a large role in the race, they ultimately failed to garner a significant number of votes.

By October, Delgado emerged as a slight favorite. He outraised Faso 2-to-1 with $8 million–making him one of the top House fundraisers this cycle–and was leading in most polls. Still, his victory was anything but assured. While Democrats came into election day with cautious optimism, they were no doubt ready to be disappointed once again.

Mr. Delgado goes to Washington

Delgado’s victory makes him the first Democrat to represent the Hudson Valley since 2010, when Democratic incumbent Scott Murphy was defeated by Republican Chris Gibson. No doubt his victory will serve as much needed relief to the progressive voters and grassroots organizations who propelled him to victory with their energy, passion, and robust canvassing and get-out-the-vote efforts.

Delgado holds progressives stances on everything from LGBT and women’s rights to gun control to immigration. He has said that some of his top priorities in Congress will be “signing onto the paid family leave act, voting to repeal the tax scam, and co-sponsoring a trillion dollar infrastructure bill.”

Delgado has said that his focus for an infrastructure bill would be on “roads, rails, broadband access, cell service and getting back to creating jobs for folks across this region.” On the issue of healthcare–the subject he has focused on most throughout the campaign–Delgado has said he would support measures to improve and stabilize the affordable care act, including instituting a medicare-buy-in system. He has also said that he would like to sit on the committees on workforce development, education, transportation, or agriculture.

One new question surrounds Delgado’s security in his district, which still leans about 5 points more Republican than the rest of his country. For guidance, Delgado can perhaps look to his neighbor to the south, Democratic Representative Sean Maloney, who swept to victory even after taking heat for his run for New York Attorney General. Maloney, who has been in office for three terms, has secured a comfortable incumbency despite representing a district that narrowly voted for Trump.

Despite the conservative lean of his district, Delgado has the potential to become a heavy hitter within the Democratic party thanks to his intelligence, charisma, eloquence, fundraising abilities, and overall Obama-like essence. If pundits and political writers are looking to put a face to the future of the Democratic party, they need look no further than New York’s 19th congressional district.

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