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The pretty dramatic New York House primary elections, explained

Michael Grimm and Joe Crowley headline a raucous primary day in the Empire State.

Dylan Scott covers health care for Vox. He has reported on health policy for more than 10 years, writing for Governing magazine, Talking Points Memo and STAT before joining Vox in 2017.

The New York primary elections are Tuesday, and they will set up some of 2018’s most important House campaigns.

At least five House seats in the Empire State should be competitive in the fall. But Tuesday’s primary races aren’t just important — they’re also pretty dramatic. Convicted tax cheat Michael Grimm is trying to get back to the US Capitol in one Republican primary, while a top House Democrat, Joe Crowley, suddenly finds himself in a high-profile contest to keep his party’s nomination.

So here they are, the New York primary elections you should know about, briefly explained.

New York First Congressional District: Democrats could conceivably make Lee Zeldin feel the heat

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Who is the Republican? Incumbent Rep. Lee Zeldin, first elected in 2014. He was a state legislator before that. Voted in favor of Obamacare repeal but against the tax bill, which, in its rollback of deduction for state and local taxes, particularly hurt high-tax states like New York.

Who are the Democrats? It’s a crowded field, with five candidates, but there appear to be two who stand out from the rest. Kate Browning, who fled Ireland during the Troubles and used to be a school bus driver, is one of the top two fundraisers on the Democratic side. But far and away, the money leader is business executive Perry Gershon, who has put at least $600,000 of his own money into the race. Scientist Elaine DiMasi, Bernie Sanders acolyte David Pechefsky and former county official Vivian Viloria-Fisher make up the rest of the field.

What’s the story? This district is rated Likely Republican and R+5, meaning all else being equal, it’s about 5 points more Republican than the country, by Cook Political Report. So this is on the edge of competitiveness. But the district, taking up the eastern half of Long Island, did narrowly vote for Barack Obama twice before backing Donald Trump by 12 points in 2016. It’s going to be an expensive race for Democrats, but they hope there might be enough independent and moderate voters that in an anti-Trump year, they can pull off an upset.

New York 11th Congressional District: Dan Donovan versus Michael Grimm on the GOP side, heading into a competitive general election

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Who are the Republicans? Incumbent Rep. Dan Donovan and former Congress member and convicted tax evader Michael “I’ll break you in half, like a boy” Grimm, the man Donovan replaced in 2016.

Grimm is attacking Donovan as a soft Republican, for voting against the tax bill and Obamacare repeal. He got the backing of Steve Bannon and Anthony Scaramucci, for whatever it’s worth. He also bizarrely claimed Donovan had told him that he would seek a pardon for Grimm from Trump if Grimm didn’t challenge him in the primary.

There is a lot going on here, and we do have one public poll that showed Grimm leading Donovan by 10 points, But Trump has sided with Donovan in the intraparty fight. This will be one of Tuesday’s most closely watched elections.

Who are the Democrats? Max Rose — a post-9/11 combat veteran in this Staten Island district — has earned the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Red to Blue imprimatur, which means they’re pretty excited about him. He has also raised by far the most money, though at least one other candidate — union-backed, Medicare-for-all-endorsing Omar Vaid — has cracked six figures.

What’s the story? Cook thinks this R+3 district leans toward the Republicans, though that could certainly change if Grimm and his baggage earn the GOP nomination. The district narrowly supported John McCain over Barack Obama in 2008, backed Obama over Mitt Romney in 2012, and then went 10 points for Trump in 2016.

New York 14th Congressional District: Joe Crowley faces an unexpectedly spirited progressive challenge

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Who are the Democrats? The story here: Longtime Rep. Joe Crowley, a member of House Democratic leadership, appears to face a somewhat serious progressive primary challenge from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

She is portraying Crowley as corporate-funded, while talking up her progressive bona fides through her support of Medicare-for-all, a jobs guarantee and other economic justice issues. Crowley was tsked by the New York Times editorial board recently for skipping a primary debate with his challenger.

Listen, Crowley is a 10-term incumbent and might be more worried about whether he can move up in Democratic leadership if his party retakes the House than about his primary. But it’s worth monitoring, given the enthusiasm for Ocasio-Cortez among some lefty groups and publications.

Who are the Republicans? For completists: economics professor Anthony Pappas. He will not be the next Congress member from the New York 14th.

What’s the story? Because this is a D+29 district, according to Cook, it’s not going to be competitive in November.

New York 19th Congressional District: a crowded Democratic field to challenge vulnerable incumbent John Faso

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Who is the Republican? Incumbent Rep. John Faso, first elected in 2016. He voted against the tax bill but for Obamacare repeal.

Who are the Democrats? There are a bunch of viable candidates. Antonio Delgado is an attorney and Rhodes scholar raising a lot of money. Pat Ryan is running on a gun control message. Businessman Brian Flynn is putting a lot of his own money in the race. Gareth Rhodes is a former Andrew Cuomo staffer with the Times’s endorsement. Minister Dave Clegg is a longtime community leader. You also have former diplomat and CIA officer Jeff Beals and Erin Collier, a former economist in the Obama administration and the only woman in this race. It’s really wide open.

What’s the story? Cook rates this race as R+2 and a straight-up toss-up, so it should be competitive no matter who emerges on the Democratic side. Obama carried it twice, then Trump won by 7 points in 2016. Expect Democrats to hammer Faso over health care, where they will portray him as one of the decisive votes after he helped move the House repeal bill out of the budget committee.

New York 22nd Congressional District: Democrats are really excited about Anthony Brindisi’s chances against Claudia Tenney

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Who is the Republican? Incumbent Rep. Claudia Tenney, first elected in 2016. Voted for both the tax bill and Obamacare repeal, making her unique among some of the vulnerable New York Republicans. Democrats would remind you that establishment Republicans didn’t want Tenney in the first place, having backed one of her primary opponents in 2016.

Who are the Democrats? State Assembly member Anthony Brindisi, who is running unopposed in Tuesday’s primary. He has represented the area around Utica, the heart of the district, since 2011. Brindisi said he wouldn’t support Nancy Pelosi as House speaker and he has at times found himself at odds with Gov. Cuomo. Democrats hope that independent streak and his long roots in the district can work to his advantage in November.

What’s the story? This district is R+6, but Cook thinks it’s a toss-up. Brindisi is a strong candidate, and Tenney may be an unusually weak incumbent. The district narrowly flipped from Obama in 2008 to Romney in 2012 but overwhelmingly backed Trump (by 16 points!) in 2016. So Democrats are putting their eggs in the basket of Brindisi’s candidacy. We did see a poll in October and then again in May showing the Democrat with a lead.

New York 24th Congressional District: John Katko awaits the winner of Juanita Perez Williams vs. Dana Balter

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Who is the Republican? Incumbent Rep. John Katko, first elected in 2014. He voted against Obamacare repeal, but in favor of the tax bill.

Who are the Democrats? Another divisive Democratic race. Juanita Perez Williams has the support of the DCCC. She ran for mayor of Syracuse in 2017 but lost pretty handily to an independent candidate. Still, she’s a former Navy officer who grew up in a migrant community, and the national Democrats like her profile. She is facing Dana Balter, who has the support of a few notable progressive groups and is running on Medicare-for-all.

What’s the story? This has classically been one of the nation’s top swing districts. Cook actually rates it as D+3 but Likely Republican — that may reflect Williams’s late entry into the race and Cook’s belief, apparently shared by national Democrats, that Balter would be a weak general election candidate. This is a district that voted overwhelmingly for Obama in 2008 and 2012 and still supported Hillary Clinton over Trump by 3 points in 2016.

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