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Down 20 points, Balter won’t concede until absentee ballots counted

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
Dana Balter in Syracuse.

Central New York Democratic congressional candidate Dana Balter released a statement Wednesday saying her campaign will not comment on the outcome of the election against Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus), until absentee ballots are counted. There are 70,000 absentee ballots in the district and Balter is down by about 55,000 votes or 20 points following Election Day. Polls had predicted the race would be much closer.

The week before the election, a Siena College/Syracuse.com poll had Balter and Katko tied. A poll released earlier in October had Balter leading by two points. So what happened?

“Something was systematically wrong with the polls generally, not just here, but across the country,” said Grant Reeher, director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute at Syracuse University. “Clearly, I think there was an underestimation of the Republican side of the turnout.”

Republicans performed better than expected in several races in central New York. Onondaga County had a record-breaking voter turnout. But Balter is currently losing in the county by 11 points. It’s the largest county in the district, and voters there have Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden over President Trump by eight points.

Reeher said Katko doesn’t win without a fair amount of ticket splitting, where voters choose candidates of different political parties in different races. He also said that positions Balter took, like supporting Medicare for all, gun control and bail reform, are arguably too far left for the district.

“People were exposed to her campaign, and some of the negative advertising against it by Katko’s campaign, there got to be some reservations about her candidacy on the part of some of those independents and really moderate or more conservative Democrats,” Reeher said.

Plus, Democratic messaging in general, he said, can sometimes take on a condescending and scolding feel. As for Katko, Reeher said he thinks his seat is safe. It’s a moderate district and Katko has positioned himself that way.

“Despite the fact that there have been a number of different members of Congress coming and going in the last 10 years, it’s a district that likes to get comfortable with a representative, and keep them for a long time,” Reeher said.

Onondaga County starts counting absentee ballots on Monday.

Read Balter’s full statement below.

“I want to first say thank you - to the hundreds of supporters and volunteers who have powered this campaign, to the poll workers and election staff across our district who conducted this election with the utmost professionalism amid extraordinary circumstances, and to the hundreds of thousands of central and western New Yorkers who went out to the polls or voted by mail to make their voices heard in this election. I am heartened by the record-breaking voter turnout in this district. Our democracy is strengthened by increased engagement in our voting process, and it is critical that we allow our democratic process to play out in every single race, including the presidential race. In an election with unprecedented use of mail-in voting, we must allow time for all mail-in ballots to be counted. Every voter's voice must be heard. With over 70,000 absentee ballots yet to be counted in our race — and more still being returned — our campaign will not be commenting on the outcome until the election staff have had appropriate time to tally all the votes. We will be monitoring the results closely as the boards of elections continue their important work.”

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.