Dana Balter is competing for a Western New York congressional seat that Republicans have held since 2015, aiming to prove that Democrats can flip red districts while running on a progressive policy platform.
Balter is in a rematch against three-term Republican John Katko, who narrowly defeated her by 5 points in 2018. (By contrast, Katko defeated his Democratic opponents in 2014 and 2016 by margins of 20 percentage points.)
Balter is backed by progressive groups like the Working Families Party and Indivisible, which also backed her 2018 campaign. National Democrats had backed her primary opponent, only supporting Balter after she won her primary. The party establishment supported her run this time around, with endorsements from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, EMILY’s List, former president Barack Obama, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
The Syracuse-area district was a target of the DCCC’s “Red to Blue” program this cycle, and the Cook Political Report has rated it as a Republican toss-up. Biden led it by 18 percentage points in the lead-up to Tuesday. The district voted twice for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton carried it over Donald Trump by just under 4 points in 2016. Balter raised $2.7 million to Katko’s $3.5 million, with last-minute help from a Clinton-headlined fundraiser. Katko endorsed Trump in January, but said during a debate with Balter last month that he had considered retracting it and didn’t like the president’s “personality.”
Balter’s platform included universal health care, treating the opioid crisis as a medical and not a criminal problem, ending mandatory minimums and private prisons, legalizing marijuana and expunging past convictions, getting big money out of politics, and a $15 minimum wage. Katko, who voted with Trump more than 90 percent of the time during his first term, has hewed closer toward the center on some issues since taking office, voting with the president a little over 50 percent of the time in his second term. Katko voted in 2015 to strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood and opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or when a mother’s life is at risk. This cycle, he ran on enhancing border security, finding an alternative to the Affordable Care Act, and cutting taxes for small businesses.
Balter also ran on rejecting corporate PAC money and drew attention to Katko’s support from corporate interests, including insurance and financial services groups. Katko’s top contributors include the Pro-Israel America PAC, Exelon Corp, the Bankers Healthcare Group, UnitedHealth Group, and the Blackstone Group. Balter’s top contributors were Syracuse University, EMILY’s List, the State University of New York, and the Syracuse City School District.