Abortion key issue in special New York U.S. House race Tuesday

Florida Democrats will choose party nominees to take on the state's top two Republicans in November - Governor Ron DeSantis and Senator Marco Rubio, who face no primary opponents.
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WASHINGTON: New York state voters head to the polls on Tuesday in the first competitive congressional election since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned national abortion rights, a contest that could prove a bellwether for November's election battles for control of Congress.

Democrat Pat Ryan and Republican Marc Molinaro are vying for an open seat in the House of Representatives in a special election that coincides with party primary contests taking place across the rest of New York state, as well as in Florida and Oklahoma. Florida Democrats will choose party nominees to take on the state's top two Republicans in November - Governor Ron DeSantis and Senator Marco Rubio, who face no primary opponents.

U.S. Representative Val Demings leads a field of four Democrats vying to oppose Rubio. State agriculture commissioner Nikki Fried and U.S. Representative Charlie Crist, a former Republican governor, are the leading contenders in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. A run-off primary in Oklahoma will determine whether U.S. Representative Markwayne Mullin or former state House Speaker T.W. Shannon gets the Republican nomination to replace retiring Senator Jim Inhofe. Mullin and Shannon are both loyalists of former President Donald Trump and the winner will likely succeed to office in November.

Tuesday's primaries are among the last scheduled before the Nov. 8 midterm elections, which will determine the balance of power in the House and Senate in the run-up to the 2024 presidential election. Democrats have been widely seen as the underdog party up to now, with their prospects weighed down by historical trends, inflation, and President Joe Biden's low job approval numbers.

Republicans are favored to take control of the House, putting them in a position to scupper Biden's legislative agenda. But their chances of capturing the Senate have been cast into doubt by the weakness of Trump-endorsed candidates in the key swing states of Arizona, Georgia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

Both parties could get a preview of the November midterms in Tuesday's special election in New York. Ryan and Molinaro are contending for New York's 19th Congressional District, which includes the Catskill Mountains and part of the Hudson Valley.

Their showdown offers a test of whether Democrats can use the abortion issue to deflect Republican criticism over the economy. Democratic hopes were raised earlier this month when voters in Republican-dominated Kansas rejected a constitutional amendment to remove abortion protections. Ryan, an Army combat veteran and the executive of Ulster County, has campaigned on the message that the loss of national abortion rights amounts to an "existential threat" to U.S. democracy.

Molinaro, the executive of Dutchess County, opposes abortion and has downplayed the issue to focus his message on high inflation and crime rates. The two men are battling for the seat left vacant when Democrat Antonio Delgado became the state's lieutenant governor. A recent opinion poll from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, or DCCC, the campaign arm of the House Democratic conference, showed Ryan on 43%, narrowly trailing Molinaro on 46%.

Aside from the special House election, New York will also hold a rare primary devoted to newly drawn congressional districts throughout the state. The primaries include unusual intraparty contests for Democrats, including a New York City battle between longtime House incumbents Carolyn Maloney and Jerrold Nadler, who are both in their 70s. The race includes a third Democratic contender, 38-year-old Suraj Patel. An Emerson College poll last week showed Nadler leading Maloney 43% to 24%, with Patel at 14%.

U.S. Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, a five-term Democratic incumbent and DCCC chair, faces challenger Alessandra Biaggi in a suburban New York primary contest, seen as a proxy battle between the party establishment and its progressive wing. Biaggi is endorsed by Democratic Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, a leading House progressive.

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