Candidates used the weekend to make final pitches to voters, including in the close contest in the 24th congressional district. WAER's James Corrigan reports both candidates took to the streets and believe they've made their case before election wraps up Tuesday.
Every second that goes by is one closer to Election Day. For Central New York candidates and election workers; every one counts. And as time winds down, the campaigns for the 24th Congressional district have ramped up, as the candidates make their final pitches to voters.
Democratic challenger Dana Balter has taken her case directly to the people, with a twist. Her campaign has staged a series of literature drop events, placing campaign brochures at residences in local neighborhoods. She chats with the voters she sees, an activity in which she relishes.
“My favorite part of all of this is meeting new people and hearing their stories and getting to know what matters to them.“
Congressman John Katko has taken a similar route, holding lit drops of his own amidst other events both in person and virtual. The campaign has at times been more a feud of accusations than policy positions.For Katko, hard fought battles like this are nothing new.
“I'm used to the brawls. But you know, before I did this, I was a federal organized crime prosecutor and I did death penalty cases and gang cases, police and political corruption, so I have exceptionally thick skin. So I’m kind of used to it.”
Even with record TV spending in the race, both candidates know the true value of face to face interaction with voters, which has largely been absent this year due to COVID. And in the final push to the polls, both have had to get creative.
“There's no better way to size up a person and to shake their hand and look them in the eye,” Katko said. “And that's what I want to do to people. I don't have that right now. we've had to be very creative with zoom calls and the meetings that we have and how many people and how we go about go about approaching people.”
“Elections are about the people,” Balter said. “And because of COVID, we've been really limited in our ability to get out and talk to voters in person. So events like this, where we can leave literature at doors and kind of see people on the sidewalks, it's a really important way to stay connected.”
Balter’s task in unseating the three-term incumbent hinges on her ability to make her case that she is the one with Central New York families’ interests at the forefront.
“I know lots of folks across this district who are working two and three, and sometimes even more jobs, trying to make ends meet and keep food on the table and keep their bills paid. And those are the folks that I'm doing this for because I want to go to Congress to fight for those families, because nobody should have to work two and three and four jobs.”
Katko’s goal is to remind voters of his bipartisan record in Congress, which he says is what the nation needs in divisive times.
“That's really been the message all along is, we’re one of the most bipartisan teams in the House. And that's exactly what the district needs. We need more moderates like myself, to develop a middle where compromise can be cool again, and bipartisanship becomes more the norm.”
Their cases have been made time and again this year, and will continue to be made through Election Day on Tuesday. Regardless of the result, both candidates believe they’ve left everything they have on the field.
“I’m very at peace because we've done everything we can do,” Katko said. “I like to think that if we’ve executed our game plan as well as we have, and we’ve raised as much money as we have, and done as well as we have, well, hopefully we’ll be alright, but time will tell at the ballot box.”
“I am confident that we have made our case to the voters that voters understand the choice and what's at stake in this election,” Balter said. “I'm confident they know that I'm on their side and that I will fight for them. And I am optimistic and hopeful that I have done enough to earn their vote.”
AS CAMPAIGNS WIND DOWN, ELECTION WORK RAMPS UP
For the candidates, the battle is winding down. But for election officials, it’s just beginning.
The Onondaga County Board of Elections has been open seemingly non-stop over the early voting period, and shows no sign of stopping. For election worker Alison Wright, that means sacrificing time with her family, including her daughter.
“She’s six. She's in first grade. She's doing virtual school and in school so I don't get to see her as much.”
The efforts of election workers like Alison are not unnoticed by BOE co-commissioner Dustin Czarny
“That is the untold heroes, stories of the heroes out there because most of the people in this office have been working 12 hour days since October 1 with no days off to get this done. That means a tremendous strain on families.”
But Czarny also recognizes the sacrifices to come. State law mandates that absentee ballots cannot be counted until November 9th. And with over 60,000 Onondaga county ballots lying in wait, the task will be daunting.
“We're gonna have 20 teams of people opening ballots, two high speed scanners going, candidates are going to be in here watching us do it. It's gonna be intense.”
Despite the long days and nights ahead, Czarny and his team have embraced their responsibility in ensuring a free and fair election.
“This is the job that we chose. It's the best job I've ever had. And I'm glad to do it. And I know that the people that are out there that are working are dedicated to it as well. When it's over, we're going to relax and that will be good. But the job's not done so I'm not ready for it to be over yet”
The job is far from done, for both officials and the candidates themselves. All the pieces are in place, however, for an election unlike any other, as the hour of the voters’ judgement gets closer and closer.