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Will endorsements matter in Democratic primary for New York's 24th Congressional District?

Colleen Deacon for Congress
Democratic candidate Colleen Deacon poses with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) in her campaign advertisement.

The three Democrats seeking to challenge incumbent Republican Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus) in New York's 24th Congressional District have competed for endorsements, and argued about their worth. But will they even matter in a year when anti-establishment sentiment has reached a fever pitch?

The candidates, Syracuse lawyer Steve Williams, Syracuse University professor Eric Kingson and former Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) staffer Colleen Deacon, are strikingly similar on a range of issues. But they differ starkly in endorsements. Deacon seems to be the heavy favorite, with pledged support from prominent officials and organizations like Sens. Gillibrand and Charles Schumer (D-NY), the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner and the Onondaga County Democratic Committee. They are prominently featured on her campaign's website and even the focus of her first TV advertisement.

"Chuck Schumer and I have endorsed Colleen because we know that in Congress, she'll stand up to the right wing to fight for jobs and protect Social Security," Sen. Gillibrand says in the advertisement.

Deacon has said she is honored to have that support. But, it's been a bad year for the establishment. Donald Trump, a businessman with no political experience, is on track to win the GOP's nomination for president. And in the Democratic race, establishment-favorite Hillary Clinton is struggling to shake her grassroots opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders. So, could endorsements from the establishment actually be a handicap? Syracuse University assistant political science professor Shana Gadarian says no.

"Yes endorsements matter and they matter most for voters as it gets closer to elections and in very kind of complicated elections with low information, and a primary is exactly that kind of election," Gadarian said.

Gadarian said even this year, endorsements can still boost a candidate's name recognition and increase their financial support.

'These organizations can help you organize and get people out to vote and they can support you in a number of financial ways: send out mailers," Gadarian said. "Money is a really big part of what candidates need in order to succeed."

Deacon has raised more money than her opponents and she was the first to broadcast a campaign ad on TV, but Williams has stressed that he doesn't want support from national organizations. During a debate on the Campbell Conversations on WRVO, he said he does not want to be "beholden" to them.

"Everybody else in this race is backed by some national political establishment organization. Colleen is backed the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Eric's backed by the Democracy for America organization, John's backed by the Republican National Committee," Williams said. "I haven't sought, nor do I want, their backing because I want to be solely the interest of this district. And you know what, that's resonating with the folks of this district and that's why my campaign is surging."

Kingson has recently picked up endorsements from national figures, including from the longest-serving member of Congress, Michigan Rep. John Conyers, the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, and just this week, Bernie Sanders. But during the WRVO debate, he said it's all about the voters.

"The key thing is the voters has to decide who they want, not politicians in Washington, not organizations," Kingson said.

Earlier this year, some of the district's voters in the Oswego, Cayuga and Wayne county Democratic committees voted to endorse both Deacon and Williams. Oswego County committee member Judy Prosser of Hannibal said the debate focused on who had the better shot at beating Katko. The Democrats supporting Deacon kept referring to her experience in the district and knowledge of the players.

"She’s got the connections in the region, she knows the issues here, she’s worked with them," Prosser said.

But just as many committee members sided with Williams mainly because of his style, according to Prosser.

"The people who were supporting Steve thinks that he will be more aggressive, that he will be a stronger debater," Prosser said. "He’s got the – we’ll, he’s a lawyer. He’s a litigator."

After several rounds of voting, though, the three county committees decided to let the voters have the final word in the primary on June 28.

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.