December 4, 2022

From fiercely contested House races in New York to the battle in Florida to take on Gov. Ron DeSantis, pillars of the Democratic establishment prevailed in a series of late-August elections in both states on Tuesday.

In the Hudson Valley in New York, another theme emerged: The political power of abortion rights in the post-Roe era.

Here are five takeaways.

Two months after Roe v. Wade was overturned, the matter of abortion rights is helping Democrats close what had been a devastating enthusiasm gap.

That dynamic has been building all summer, but it was on vivid display in a special House election in New York’s Hudson Valley on Tuesday. Pat Ryan, the Democratic nominee and the winner of the contest, made abortion rights a centerpiece of his campaign, infusing the issue into his messaging and yard signs.

Mr. Ryan’s victory in a swing district — despite a difficult political environment for the party in power, and a well-known Republican opponent, Marc Molinaro — offers among the clearest signs yet that abortion can be a powerful motivator in congressional elections, even as voters weigh other concerns, including frustration with the White House and anger over inflation.

One Hudson Valley woman, Alea Fanelli, a registered Republican who considers herself an independent, said in late July that she was leaning toward backing Mr. Ryan because of his support for abortion rights. If abortion is outlawed, she said, “then what, we’re back to back rooms, alleys, men kicking us in the stomach?”

Republicans cautioned against reading too much into Mr. Ryan’s victory. They noted that independent voters, many of whom are unhappy with President Biden, are unaccustomed to voting on the same day as Primary Day. Strategists in both parties agree that Democrats still face significant headwinds. And a late-August special election is hardly a predictor of outcomes in November.

But the race did offer a snapshot of political energy as the final stretch of the midterms arrives. Some voters who once appeared apathetic about the fall campaigns have plainly woken up.

When it came to the redistricting process, New York was once the great hope for Democrats: lawmakers had embraced an aggressive reconfiguration of congressional districts that was supposed to position the party to flip multiple House seats.

Instead, New York was the scene of Democratic redistricting heartbreak on Tuesday. Multiple incumbent lawmakers were defeated in extraordinarily bitter primaries, the result of a court-ordered redrawing of those maps.

Redistricting can often be divisive, but perhaps nowhere has it created more explosive Democratic infighting than in New York, illustrating the power of a seemingly obscure process to upend American politics.

Two giants of Manhattan politics — Representatives Jerry Nadler and Carolyn B. Maloney — were forced to compete against each other in an increasingly vicious and personal battle when the East and West Sides were drawn into a single district for the first time since World War II. Ms. Maloney, the chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform — the first woman to hold that role — was defeated.

And Representative Mondaire Jones, one of the first openly gay Black members of Congress, lost on Tuesday after moving from his suburban district to seek a New York City seat following tensions over redistricting.

Not long ago, New York was a haven for young insurgent candidates who defeated powerful, well-funded incumbents up and down the ballot.

But despite clamoring among some Democratic voters this summer for generational change, and simmering frustrations with Democratic leadership after the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Tuesday was a strong night for the establishment, at least toward the top of the ticket.

In a newly redrawn New York district that includes parts of Westchester County and the Hudson Valley, Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, 56, who chairs the Democratic House campaign committee, easily dispatched a challenge from State Senator Alessandra Biaggi, 36, who ran to his left.

In Manhattan, Suraj Patel, 38, a lawyer, ran an underdog campaign against Ms. Maloney and Mr. Nadler, two septuagenarians who were elected to Congress three decades ago. But his efforts to press a message that it was time for a new generation of leadership fell short against two established leaders. He came in third.

And on the Republican side, Nick Langworthy, the chairman of the state party, defeated Carl Paladino, a fixture of New York Republican politics with a long history of making racist, sexist and homophobic remarks. Mr. Paladino had the support of far-right Republicans including Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz.

If elections are about choices, Florida’s voters are about to get a true study in contrasts.

Representative Charlie Crist won the Democratic nomination to take on Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday, setting up a contest between a Democrat who calls for “unity” and “civility,” and a powerful Republican incumbent who has relished stoking cultural battles, even going to war with Disney, a storied company with deep ties to his state.

Some Democrats have argued that, had they nominated a more moderate candidate to run against Mr. DeSantis in 2018 instead of the left-leaning Andrew Gillum, they could have eked out a victory. The centrist Mr. Crist, a former Republican and independent, will test that theory as he wages an uphill battle against the well-funded governor, who is now in a far stronger political position than he was four years ago, with a huge national platform.

But in nominating Mr. Crist by an overwhelming margin, Florida Democrats are betting on a contender they hope can engage at least some independent and moderate Republican voters uncomfortable with Mr. DeSantis’s hard-right postures.

Florida’s Senate matchup was also set on Tuesday: Representative Val B. Demings of Orlando easily won the Democratic nomination to face off against Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican.

Maxwell Alejandro Frost, 25, a progressive activist, has some Democrats already talking him up as the future of the party.

Mr. Frost, who is Afro-Cuban, won a House primary in Florida on Tuesday, defeating two former members of Congress in a crowded field, a difficult feat for any first-time candidate but especially for a political newcomer.

Mr. Frost illustrates the political appeal of a young candidate of color who can tap into the urgency of the political moment. He drew a range of notable national endorsements and could be the first member of Generation Z to serve in Congress if he wins the heavily Democratic seat in November, as expected. He has been especially focused on organizing to combat gun violence.

“This is something that my generation has had to face head-on: being scared to go to school, being scared to go to church, being scared to be in your community,” he said in an interview, referring to mass shootings. “That gives me a sense of urgency, because this is something I live day to day.”

Maggie Astor and Grace Ashford contributed reporting.

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