The first retirement of the 114th Congress came early this year. So early, in fact, that the new Congress had not even been sworn in yet.
After having just trounced Sean Eldridge, husband toThe New Republic owner Chris Hughes, by 30 points, New York’s 19th congressional district Rep. Chris Gibson revealed his intention to retire from office. Gibson was elected in the 2010 tea party wave to New York’s 20th congressional district and was redistricted into his present seat in 2012.
Gibson’s district will be a battleground in 2016; President Barack Obama carried New York’s 19th in 2008 by 8 points and carried it again in 2012 by 6 points. “Initially, Democrats were optimistic about defeating Gibson in the lush and rolling Hudson Valley-based district north of New York City. But Eldridge’s candidacy quickly flamed out, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee never reserved airtime in the 19th District to support his campaign,” Roll Call’s Shira Center and Nathan Gonzales wrote. “Without Gibson on the ticket, Democrats will target the district as a pick-up opportunity.”
So, how did Gibson manage to hang on to his seat for this long given the district’s Democratic tilt? Well, he’s a relatively moderate Republican and a good fit for a center-left CD. While Gibson joined all of his Republican colleagues in voting against the Affordable Care Act, he also refused to sign the Americans for Tax Reform pledge to not to raise taxes and voted against Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget.
But while Republicans in Congress might be losing a seat, they could also be eventually gaining a Senator. “Gibson is also interested in running statewide, perhaps in 2018, said one of the sources,” the Roll Call report concluded.
Gibson might be considering a run for governor, and New York’s statewide electorate has more rich history of electing Republicans to serve in Albany than in Washington. Surely, those who have Gibson’s ear are advising him to make a run for the governor’s mansion. If Gibson did mount a bid for U.S. Senate in 2018 against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, however, he would probably run a far more competitive race than did her previous challengers.
Gillibrand defeated former Rep. Joe DioGuardi in a 2010 special election and businesswoman Wendy Long in 2012. On both occasions, she won by over 20-point margins. But Long had never held elected office and DioGuardi had been out of office for two decades by the time he faced Gillibrand. Gibson’s name recognition and connections to Empire State donors and influencers alone would give him a leg up in 2018.
Moreover, the 2018 election cycle will be the next president’s first midterm. Much of how the 2018 cycle unfolds depends on what happens on election night in 2016, but if Hillary Clinton succeeds Barack Obama in office then you can bet the house that the 10th year of Democratic governance from the White House will be a good year for the GOP. Furthermore, while Gillibrand’s previous challengers could be cast as too conservative for the downstate constituency who determine New York’s statewide elections, Gibson will be harder to pigeonhole in that fashion.
In 2018, Republicans will be defending the eight seats they won in the 2012 elections while Democrats are defending 23 seats as well as the two independents that caucus with the party. The National Republican Senatorial Committee will have to spread its resources thin and targets like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, Indiana’s Joe Donnelly, Missouri’s Claire McCaskill, and Florida’s Ben Nelson will prove more tempting targets than will Gillibrand. If it looks like a good year for the GOP, however, Gibson’s decision to float his intentions to run for statewide office this soon could lead to some competitive polling early enough in the cycle to convince the NRSC to commit some resources to this race.
Statewide races in New York always feel like longshots for Republicans, but that condition is perpetuated by the party’s recruiting problem in the Empire State. A strong recruit like Gibson could make for a competitive race when Gillibrand seeks a second full term in the Senate.