Before Rep. John Katko’s tenure representing Central New York in Congress, the Syracuse-based district swung back and forth politically for a few election cycles, voting out the incumbent party for a decade. And despite Katko’s comfortable re-election victories, his seat has always been viewed by both parties as a competitive one every two years.
Following Katko’s decision not to seek another term, a messy redistricting process that amended the district’s borders and a lively primary race for both parties in August, an exclusive Spectrum News/Siena College poll released Tuesday provides the best indicator yet that the new district and the race to succeed Katko remains a competitive one.
The new 22nd District is not only still competitive, but redistricting actually combined Katko’s Onondaga County with Madison and Oneida counties and a tiny sliver of southeastern Oswego County — part of the old 22nd District that saw two extremely close contests in 2018 and 2020 between Claudia Tenney and Anthony Brindisi.
The exclusive poll for the new 22nd District has Republican Brandon Williams ahead of Democrat Francis Conole 45% to 40%. Though Williams has a 5-percentage point advantage, the poll shows Conole within the 5.1 percentage point margin of error.
A big element to the new district’s competitiveness is its diverse geological electorate, comprising both the cities of Syracuse, Utica and Rome, as well as the large rural swaths of eastern Central New York and the Mohawk Valley. The poll found that Conole leads narrowly in Onondaga County while Williams leads by nearly 20 points in a combination of Madison and Oneida counties.
The region also has a recent history of diverse ticket-splitting. Katko, a Republican, was re-elected while voters in his district concurrently voted for Hillary Clinton for president by 3 points in 2016 and Joe Biden by 9 points in 2020. In 2018, the old 22nd District elected Democrat Anthony Brindisi to Congress by 1.8 points while it concurrently went to Republican Marc Molinaro in the race for governor by over 20 points.
If the new 22nd District had existed in 2020, Biden would’ve won it by about 8 points. That makes the poll finding Williams ahead and Cook Political Report’s ranking of the district as “a Republican toss-up” all the more compelling.
With another governor’s race this year, the Spectrum News/Siena College poll this week asked voters in the new 22nd District about that contest and found it is also competitive in the region, with Republican Lee Zeldin ahead of Gov. Kathy Hochul by just 3 points. Marc Molinaro won the district by 6 points over Andrew Cuomo in the 2018 race.
With a race like this, a significant factor that may push either Williams or Conole over the finish line is the weight of independent voters. The Spectrum News 1/Siena College poll found that Williams has a commanding lead — 21 points — with independents. Driving independents’ concerns are the economy and inflation, with 63% of them choosing that as either the top or second-most pressing issue for them, followed by threats to democracy, abortion and crime.
"I think the issue that may be on voters' minds that may be hurting Conole, as well as other Democrats, is how voters think the country is doing right now,” Siena College pollster Steve Greenberg told Spectrum News 1.
Williams and Conole recieved about the same amount of support from their respective party’s bases and both received 10% of support from voters registered in the opposite party, the poll found.
The challenge that both Conole and Williams have is gaining name recognition in the waning weeks of this campaign. With early voting beginning in a few weeks, the poll found more than half of voters, 55%, have no opinion of Conole, while 62% have no opinion of Williams.
Central New York will likely be watched closely over the next few weeks, along with several key races in the Hudson Valley, as both parties battle for control of the House of Representatives — a prospect voters in NY-22 are also evenly divided on. The Spectrum News 1 poll found that 47% of voters in the district preferred that Republicans take control of the House while 45% prefer Democrats retain their majority.
The poll of 453 likely voters was conducted from Sept. 25 to Sept. 28.