Taking Back the House: Wagering on Wages

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DISTRICT: New York's 24th (Cooperstown)

THE REPUBLICAN: State Sen. Ray Meier

THE DEMOCRAT: District Attorney Mike Arcuri

TOP ISSUE: Minimum wage

"Every cycle, there are a handful of races where it's as if the parties are looking at two completely different contests," says political analyst Stu Rothenberg. New York's 24th is one of them. "The Democrats look at this race and think they're going to steal a Republican seat," he adds. "And the Republicans look at the same race and say, €˜What are they talking about?'"

To wit: Earlier this fall, the NRCC was touting a survey showing Meier leading by eleven points, while Democrats pointed to a poll that has Arcuri up by fifteen.

Partisanship aside, this open seat is a blue-chip race between two capable candidates. Meier is a technocrat of long standing in New York's state senate — more conservative than departing Republican incumbent Sherwood Boehlert, but not a zealot. "He's got great name identification up there," says Republican spokesman Carl Forti, who says the 24th the second-strongest GOP district in New York. "This is one that we think we're going to win and, in the end, win pretty easily."

Democrats believe that Arcuri has the edge in charisma — and is a better ideological fit for the district. A former all-American football star at Albany State who holds a black belt in tae kwon do, Arcuri earns high praise from DCCC spokesman Bill Burton as "a badass Italian prosecutor." And an effective one too: During Arcuri's tenure, the local murder rate has fallen by nearly two thirds.

"He has already run — and won — in the most conservative part of the district," notes Rep. Chris Van Hollen of the DCCC. For Arcuri, the dividing line in the race is support for working-class families.

Meier has voted twice to block a raise in the state minimum wage — while the GOP Congress has raised pay for its own members by $30,000 a year. "This is an issue that transcends politics," Arcuri says.

"People need to be able to afford health insurance, housing and food for their families — and yet the minimum wage is at a sixty-year low when you factor in inflation. That's shameful."