Democratic challenger Sean Eldridge is fighting an uphill battle against two term incumbent Chris Gibson but after meeting him yesterday, I believe there's a chance he can win. I confess that I had been skeptical about his candidacy. He has just moved to the district, clearly with the intent of running. He has loads of money, as the husband of one of the Facebook billionaires, Chris Hughes. He is 27 and his only political experience has been campaigning for marriage equality. His business experience consists largely of investing his and his husband's money in local businesses. Gibson, a native of the district and a retired colonel with several combat tours in Iraq, has labeled Eldridge a billionaire carpetbagger who is out to buy himself a seat in Congress. Gibson has successfully painted himself as a moderate but has joined in the endless votes to repeal the ACA, and only last week voted for HR 694, which authorizes suing the president.
I've met Colonel Gibson several times and commended his independent stance on foreign policy and the surveillance issue. I'd say he learned a certain caution from his own military experience. He strongly criticized Obama's intervention in Libya and has warned against arming the Syrian rebels. Breaking with his own party and the administration, he voted against extending the Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
And he has played a genuine leadership role in challenging the administration's failure to rein in the NSA. Along with Democrat John Conyers and Republican Justin Amash, he is co-sponsoring a proposed law they are calling the LIBERTE-E Act which would require the now secret rulings of the FISA courts to be made public. Considering that these rulings constitute whatever legal basis there is for NSA's mass spying, that would do far more to assure our basic rights than the few feeble steps taken up to this point by the administration.
So, I went to the opening of Eldridge's Hudson, NY office yesterday, expecting that I would meet a young candidate who may be right on domestic issues but who would be uninformed on anything beyond the standard Democratic talking points. Then I had a chance to talk with him and told him why I found Gibson to be right on several national security issues and asked him where he stood. My question did not sit well with other local Democrats who felt that this election, like most other congressional races this year, will not be won on foreign policy or privacy issues. It's all about domestic issues and the voters, according to most active Democrats, and the voters have no interest in anything beyond our shores, and even less in whether or not the NSA is downloading all our phone calls and email.
Sean, however, turned out to be very well informed and keenly aware of the implications of what Edward Snowden revealed to the world last year. He said that although he doesn't agree with Mark Zuckerberg on everything, he shares his sense of alarm over the extent of government intrusion into people's private lives. He expresses disappointment that Obama has failed to act on any of the recommendations of the panel he himself appointed to investigate abuses by the NSA and similar agencies. He made the point that the US example will soon be followed by many other nations as they ramp up their capacity to emulate our mistakes.
He is also very open about his wealth and cites it as the reason why he will be immune to the special interests that have bought off most of the Congress. His wealth, which I had found to be a troubling factor in his candidacy, has breathed new life into local state campaigns. The office which opened yesterday is part of a coordinated congressional and state campaign and the candidates for the assembly and state senate held equal billing with Sean yesterday.
Brian Howard, a retired principal, was very forceful in challenging the incumbent Republican State senator Kathy Marchione who won a primary two years ago against Roy McDonald, a rare Republican who had the courage to vote for marriage equality. Phil Malone, a young guy who runs his own solar business, is making a good run for the assembly and Didi Barrett, who has been a dynamic force in the assembly, is in the unusual position (for this county) is running for re-election as a democrat. She has done some very good work on Lyme disease, which is rampant here in Columbia County.
Based on yesterday's impressions, I feel very positive about local state candidates. And for Sean to have a real chance against Gibson, I believe he has to find forums where he can respond directly to people's questions. He is terrific one-on-one but I'd like to see him have the opportunity to demonstrate just how knowledgeable and quick on his feet he can be. My guess is that he is being advised to be too cautious by people like his strong supporter, Kirsten Gillibrand, who is from this district.
People here in the Hudson Valley and Catskills are looking for an independent voice and Sean can be that in ways that Colonel Gibson cannot. Gibson is willing to challenge the administration on foreign policy and surveillance at present but I am not so sure he would do that if the party leaders didn't okay it. He is very much a chain-of-command guy, no surprise considering his military experience. If Boehner wants 54 votes to repeal the ACA, he will follow orders. If the party bosses say de-fund Planned Parenthood, he does it even though he comes home and says he supports women's right to choose. What can he do? He's not wealthy - and decided not even to draw his military pension while he is in Congress - so he has to do what the big money guys say.
Sean Eldridge has every potential to be a really independent and principled voice in Congress and I believe that the way he can prove this to the voters in CD-19 is to make it very clear where he differs with the Obama administration, specifically in its obsession for secret surveillance and generally right wing foreign policy. Personally, I have been very disappointed in Obama in these areas and this is not an uncommon view. I know that many people around here are waiting for someone who will stand up to the leadership of both of our national parties. And if Sean Eldridge can do that, he may very well win in November.