Former Rep. Claudia Tenney vies for her old seat in rematch with Anthony Brindisi

The former congresswoman lost her seat by less than two points in 2018

Claudia Tenney wants her congressional seat back.

Tenney, a Republican who represented New York’s 22nd district for one term, narrowly lost her seat to current Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-NY) by less than 2 percentage points in 2018.

Now, after sailing through the Republican primary with nearly 70% of the vote, Tenney is preparing for a November rematch against Brindisi. Tenney knows how much is riding on the race — The Cook Political Report rates it as a tossup, and the 22nd district is a top target for the GOP.

This time, Tenney thinks voters — who she believes have been disappointed with Brinidisi — are ready to put her back in office. “I know a lot of people were just like, ‘Wow, this is not what we thought we were bargaining for,’” Tenney told Jewish Insider.

Tenney said she wants to help get the House of Representatives back on track toward advancing projects that began during her term in office.

“Elected leadership on the Democratic side seems consumed with impeachment, consumed with really more of a far-left agenda than a moderate agenda that they claimed they were going to provide. And now we see them out of control,” she said.

Tenney acknowledged that Brindisi’s ground game and social media were stronger than hers in 2018, holes she says her campaign has patched this cycle. But she largely credited Brindisi’s victory to what she called false claims he and other Democrats made about her, including seemingly blaming her for high cable prices.

“I feel like we were just kind of blindsided by it,” she said. 

Tenney said Brindisi, a member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, has not actually governed as a moderate, and has instead kowtowed to party leadership and the party’s left wing.

“He’s almost paralyzed in fear,” she said. “He doesn’t take a strong stand on anything.”

She added that she considered joining the Problem Solvers Caucus in her previous term, and said she might consider it again if she’s reelected, but questioned its legislative efficacy.

“I don’t know how many of their bills have really made much of an impact or gotten to the Senate,” she said. “I do know that the Problem Solvers Caucus does a tremendous job raising money.”

Brindisi has touted the fact that President Donald Trump has signed into law several pieces of legislation that he introduced or cosponsored. But Tenney dismissed these accomplishments, pointing out that she initially introduced one of the bills, the SPOONSS Act, in 2017. 

Claudia Tenney speaks with a constituent at a campaign event. (Tenney for Congress)

Tenney also touted her work on Middle East issues during her time in Congress. 

She introduced a bill requiring the president to consult with Israeli officials before selling or exporting defense equipment to other Middle Eastern countries. She also cosponsored a series of bills, including the 2018 United States-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act, a bill opposing the BDS movement and a bill supporting moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

“I think that we need to have the United States as a major player and the world’s leader on the stage helping Israel, who is one of our most important allies, and the most important ally in the Middle East, [in the peace process],” she said.

Tenney supports a two-state solution, but does not see it as a practical or achievable goal in the current environment.

“I would love to think in a perfect world we could have a two-state solution, but I don’t think that’s realistic right now. I think the Palestinians need to prove that they’re willing to uphold at least a rudimentary standard, and I don’t think that’s happening with them right now,” she said. “Right now, I think a one-state solution and making sure we just restore some order to see if the Palestinians are willing to live up to the peace process [is the best approach].”

Brindisi recently told JI he declined to sign a letter from House Democrats condemning the Israeli government’s proposal to annex portions of the West Bank because it did not strongly oppose conditioning military aid to Israel.

Tenney said that, if she were in Congress, she would have joined a letter from House Republicans backing the Israeli government’s proposed move. She explained that visiting some of the territories that could be annexed during a trip to Israel bolstered her belief that they are rightfully part of the Jewish state.

“I’ve actually been to Judea and Samaria. I’ve been to the so-called settlements when I was in Israel,” she said. “I feel like those are places that should be restored and [the Jewish people] should have them back because it’s their ancestral area.”

Tenney also expressed concern about antisemitism on college campuses. In 2018, she cosponsored a bill calling for the Department of Education to treat antisemitism as a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 during her first term. After years of failed efforts to get it through the House, Trump signed an executive order including antisemitism as one of Title VI’s protected groups.

“I have 11 colleges in my district and, in my lifetime, I’ve never seen more antisemitism than I’ve seen right now,” she said, pointing specifically to the BDS movement. “That being said, in my region, it’s a very small number of people, but I’ve never seen it before until the last 10 years. It seems to be generated on college campuses.”

Tenney said she believes this trend can be addressed through improved education and increased discussions about the Holocaust.

Although Tenney seems confident about her chances of regaining her seat this fall, Shana Kushner Gadarian, a political science professor at Syracuse University, told JI that Tenney might struggle more this year than she did in 2016 or 2018. Tenney has tied herself closely to Trump, and is more conservative than the average voter in the district, Gadarian explained.

“My sense is that the kind of politics that she is likely to run on [as a] pro-Trump Republican are just going to work much less well in 2020 than they did in in 2016 and 2018,” she said. “In a general election, when you need independents or some crossover voters in a district like that… [it] doesn’t strike me that linking yourself to an unpopular president like that is a smart strategy.”

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