John Katko and Dana Balter face off in race for NY-24

John Katko and Dana Balter face off in race for NY-24

A week before early voting starts, here's what you need to know about the re-match for New York's 24th Congressional District.
Published: October 17, 2020 | Updated: October 19th, 2020 at 12:28 pm
2020 Election: Dana Balter vs. John Katko

With almost two weeks left before the general election, the race for New York’s 24th Congressional District might be one of the most contested in recent time.

The incumbent Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus), a three-term member of the House of Representatives, is just one of three Republican members of Congress that represents a district that voted for Hilary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, joining Mike Garcia (R-CA) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA).

Katko will face the same opponent he did in 2018, Dana Balter. In the midterms two years ago, Katko defeated Balter by five points.

“She ran a very good campaign,” Katko said, according to Syracuse.com, after Balter conceded two years ago. “She’s a very tough opponent and I really hope she doesn’t want to run again in two years, because she’s tough.”

Two years later, they will face off in the polls again. As of Oct. 8, the Cook Political Report has deemed the race a “toss-up,” a shift from its initial ranking that gave Katko a slight advantage.

Here’s what you need to know about Syracuse’s 2020 Congressional Race before thei first debate at Noon Monday on Syracuse.com.

Behind the candidates

Balter was a former visiting assistant teaching professor in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Prior to teaching at Syracuse University, Balter studied theater and communications sciences and disorders at Northwestern University.

When she announced her first campaign in September 2017, Balter focused her campaign around “Medicare for all” and criminal justice reform. She has been against President Donald Trump since her first campaign. Balter has also recently honed in on her support of Roe v. Wade, union rights and bail reform.

Balter has often said her brother Jonathan, who is disabled, has been an inspiration for her to run for Congress. After her failed campaign in 2018, Balter started a nonpartisan group in Syracuse called, Enter the Public Square, to encourage civic engagement.

Katko is a former federal prosecutor from Onondaga County who has been in office for three terms. He attended SU College of Law before working at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of New York.

His 2014 campaign slogan to unseat former Democrat U.S. Rep. Dan Maffei was “Solid. Steady. Strong.” He endorsed being tough on crime, referring to when he was the leader of the Syracuse Gang Violence Task Force as a prosecutor.

In his latest campaign, Katko said he supports repealing the Affordable Care Act with replacement, opposes Medicare for All, and has worked for COVID-19 stimulus bills in the House this year. Despite his support for Trump, he disagreed with the president on Oct. 6 over a possible halt on negotiations for stimulus packages, saying, “With lives at stake, we cannot afford to stop negotiations on a relief package.”

In the House, he currently serves on the House Homeland Security Committee and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. In April, Trump appointed Katko to his Task Force on Reopening the Economy amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Katko announced in January that he supports Trump’s presidential re-election in 2020.

2020 campaign donations, spending

New Federal Election Commission filings that were revealed this weekend outlined more of both campaigns’ monetary donations and expenses through the last two years. After the 2020 third-quarter filing, Katko finished the cycle with over $3 million in campaign contributions, which bested Balter’s total.

Between Jan. 1, 2019 and Sept. 30, 2020, Katko was split almost equally between individual and committee contributions whereas, Balter focused more on the number of small donors contributing to her campaign.

After Balter announced her intentions to run again in April 2019, Katko ramped up funding and netted $1.5 million in 2019, which gave him an early advantage with TV and social advertisements.

John Katko on Election Night 2018
Both Balter and Katko have connections to Syracuse University. Balter was former visiting assistant teaching professor at Maxwell and Katko graduated from SU College of Law.

But Balter finished Q3, the most recent filing, with the second-highest quarter of donations for a candidate in the Syracuse-area of all time. Between July 1 and Sept. 30, Balter outraised Katko by over $400,000.

Other than individual donations through ActBlue, Balter’s biggest donor was Emily’s List, which is a political action committee (PAC) that helps elect Democratic female candidates.

The PAC describes Balter as a candidate who “won a tough primary and came close to flipping New York’s 24th Congressional District as a first-time candidate in 2018.”

Katko’s largest contributions have come from the Take Back the House 2020 super PAC. In Q3, Katko’s highest single donation was from another PAC, Patriot Day 1 2020, which contributed $11,664 on Sept. 30.

What the polls say

A Syracuse.com/Siena College poll released Oct. 4, showed Balter with a narrow lead over Katko — 45% to 42% — with a 5.1% margin of error.

One of the most revealing questions was favorability, where Balter went up three points and Katko dropped nine points since 2018. Now their favorability ratings are around the same number (Katko is 39% favorable to NY-24 residents compared to Balter’s at 36%).

Katko has been endorsed by local and national police and fireman organizations, the United States Chambers of Commerce, and other industry unions. In this cycle, Balter’s notable support comes from progressive PACs and includes endorsements from politicians like Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), presidential nominee Joe Biden, and former U.S. president Barack Obama.

In the last month, several national outlets have shifted their view on the race. Along with Politico that said the race is “expected to be closer this year,” Sabato’s Crystal Ball has moved the race from leaning to Republican to a toss-up, as well. Others, like Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, still give Katko an advantage.

What’s next?

Balter and Katko will take part in three debates beginning on Monday at noon, through Syracuse.com’s Facebook Live. The other two debates on Oct. 20 and Oct. 25, will air on local television and radio.

Early voting in New York begins on Oct. 24 before the general election on Nov. 3.

Avatar for KJ Edelman

is a contributor to The NewsHouse.