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GOP’s Molinaro leads Dem Riley in Hudson Valley race that could tip House control: poll

Republicans may have Gov. Kathy Hochul partly to thank if they win back a battleground seat in the Hudson Valley previously occupied by Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado — helping them in possibly retaking the House majority in the midterm elections.

Marc Molinaro, the Republican Dutchess County Executive, leads Democratic lawyer Josh Riley 51.2% to 41.6% in the Nov. 8 general election for the 19th Congressional District, with only about 7% of voters undecided, according to a new poll conducted for the pro-Molinaro Freedom Council USA.

The Democratic governor plucked former congressman Delgado to become her running mate for lieutenant governor in May after Brian Benjamin resigned as her No. 2 when he was charged in a federal pay-to-play finance scheme dating back to his days as a state senator.

The Molinaro-Riley race is now among a half dozen New York contests that appear to be competitive this year, after the state’s highest court invalidated plans for a so-called “Hochulmander” maps that would have left the GOP with just a couple super-red seats.

Republicans need to net only five seats in the 435-seat House to win back the gavel, meaning the road to a GOP majority could run through the Empire State.

Other competitive races include GOP challenger and state Assemblyman Mike Lawyer against Democratic incumbent Sean Patrick Maloney, the House Dems Campaign Committee chairman, in the 17th CD taking in Rockland County and the lower Hudson Valley.

Republican Marc Molinaro leads in race for Lt. Gov. Delgado's congressional seat.

Republicans are also targeting potential pick-ups of two Long Island districts, where Democratic incumbent Reps. Tom Suozzi — who lost a bid for the governorship — and Kathleen Rice are retiring, as well as the 18th CD in the Hudson Valley upstate, while defending a seat on Staten Island represented by first-term GOP incumbent Nicole Malliotakis and an open seat in the Syracuse area.

Molinaro was the Republican candidate for governor in 2018, losing to then two-term Democratic incumbent Andrew Cuomo. Riley is a lawyer who served on the Senate Judiciary Committee and worked with ex-Minnesota Sen. Al Franken.

President Biden’s popularity is underwater in the district that runs from Sullivan County in the Hudson Valley, through Broome County along the Southern Tier and the Pennsylvania border to Ithaca and Tompkins County in Central New York.

Democratic candidate Pat Ryan, right, and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul appear on stage together during a campaign rally .
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

The survey of 652 voters by Triton Polling and Research found that 42% had a favorable impression of Biden and 53% had a negative impression, which could impact the race.

But in 2020, voters in the re-constituted district backed Biden over former President Donald Trump, 52% to 48%.

“While we don’t comment on polls, the difference is clear,” said Molinaro campaign manager Will Dawson, adding the candidate “has spent his entire life fighting for working-class families in New York, while Josh Riley left us for Washington, and became a millionaire at a law firm that defended Harvey Weinstein, Big Tech, and other shady corporations.”

Molinaro was the Republican candidate for governor in 2018, losing to then two-term Democratic incumbent Andrew Cuomo.

Riley’s campaign had no immediate comment.

Ex-GOP Rep. John Faso, who lost to Delgado in the 2018 blue wave midterm elections, said it’s a competitive race, but gave Molinaro the edge. He said Molinaro is more in tune with the district on pocketbook issues and border security than Riley. 

“I believe the race is a competitive one and Marc will win,” said Faso.

State Democratic Party chairman Jay Jacobs, however, dismissed the poll from a partisan group as “untrustworthy.”

“It’s going to be a competitive race. But I don’t worry about polls done by partisan groups for a particular candidate and released to the media at this stage of the game. It’s untrustworthy,” Jacobs said.

“Riley is a strong candidate. He’s an up and comer.”

Triton conducted polls prior to the August 23 special election to fill Delgado’s seat under old district lines that claimed Molinaro led Democrat Pat Ryan, then the Ulster County executive. However, Ryan won in a nationally watched bellwether while focusing on abortion rights and gun control.

He is now running for Congress in the reconfigured 18th House district, which includes his Ulster County stronghold, against state Assemblyman Republican Colin Schmidt, instead of the 19th CD against Molinaro.

Molinaro allies say Riley doesn’t have the name recognition or following of Ryan. They also claim a bigger turnout in the general election, compared to the low-turnout special contest, will help Molinaro.

The survey queried 658 voters via automated phone calls from Sept. 20-22 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.