Republican Brandon Williams and Democrat Francis Conole, enjoy a meal together on Election Day. The two candidates vying against one another to represent New York's 22nd Congressional District. Mike Greenlar | Central Current

The battle for New York’s 22nd Congressional District could be decided outside of Onondaga County.

Utica University political science professor Luke Perry, an expert on Central New York politics, said less densely populated Oneida and Madison counties could be key for Democrat Francis Conole or Republican Brandon Williams. 

“I think Oneida County could be a tipping factor in deciding who wins,” Perry said. “I’m intrigued by that.” 

NY-22 is one of the more hotly contested Congressional races in the country. Here’s a look at the district’s geography, background and more analysis by Perry.

Heading into the voting booth and need a refresher on local elections? Check out our Election Guide.

Madison and Oneida counties could fuel win  

During the primaries, Conole struggled to capture voters in outlying areas of the district — the same areas where Williams surged among Republicans.

Conole won Onondaga County handily, but lost to Sarah Klee Hood by nearly 20% in Oneida County and 9% in Madison County. Indivisible Mohawk Valley, a progressive group that backed Klee Hood in the primary, is backing Conole in the general election.

Williams may have an easier time finding votes beyond Onondaga County. He won each of the four counties in the district by more than 12% against his primary opponent. 

Claudia Tenney, the Republican who represented the Mohawk Valley region before the latest redistricting, is a Donald Trump ally. Tenney took a more brash, outspoken approach than Williams, a difference that may help Williams in the suburbs, Perry said.

The latest polling on the race, by Siena College, estimates Conole will win Onondaga County and the small portion of Oswego County in the district by about 16% — but predicts he will lose Oneida and Madison counties by the same margin. 

“Williams has a lot of policy overlap with Tenney. His rhetoric and demeanor on the campaign trail is different. He’s more soft spoken, more Reagan-esque than Donald Trump,” Perry said. “I bring that up because I think, in the suburbs in the Mohawk Valley, that has more appeal.” 

Outside spending dominates race

Most of the ads running on TV have been fueled by outside spending by political action committees. 

PACs have spent nearly $13 million in the district throughout the election cycle. 

The 22nd Congressional District ranks 27th in spending among the 435 districts in the country, according to Open Secrets, a campaign finance research nonprofit.

The national attention comes as the Republicans and Democrats fight for control of the House of Representatives. Cook Political Report rated the 22nd District one of the 35 toss-up districts this election cycle. 

PAC spending dwarfs the money spent by the candidates. Williams and Conole, combined, have raised just shy of $3.5 million, according to Open Secrets. 

PACs are not allowed to coordinate political ads with candidates.

The biggest spender on local campaigns — accounting for nearly 40% of all PAC spending in the district — is the Congressional Leadership Fund.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, which is closely affiliated with House of Representatives Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, has poured more than $5 million into the Central New York district. 

The Congressional Leadership Fund outspent the next closest PAC — the House Majority PAC, which is tied to national Democratic leaders including Speaker Nancy Pelosi — by nearly $2.4 million. 

How will polling fare?

Just two years ago, Siena College’s polling for the 22nd District — then almost entirely in the Mohawk Valley — whiffed. 

The poll had incumbent Democrat Anthony Brindisi ahead of Claudia Tenney 48% to 39%. Tenney ended up winning the tight race after a recount. 

That came after two election cycles — 2016 and 2018 — of relative local accuracy, Perry said. 

This year, Siena’s polls showed a swing from September to November. In September, Siena’s poll had Williams up by 5% with about 15% of voters undecided. 

The most recent poll, finished on Nov. 1, found Conole to be up 4% with 12% of voters undecided. 

The margin of error on the poll was 5%. 

Siena increased the percentage of independents it polled this year.

Polls typically ensure about 5-10 percent of a sample is independents. Siena typically uses 19%, Perry said, but in its latest poll for the 22nd, 26% of voters sampled told pollsters they were independents.

“It remains to be seen how closely that poll will match with the ultimate electoral results,” Perry said.

Facts & History about NY-22

  • Who’s Francis Conole? Conole, 44, is a captain in the Navy reserves and resides in Syracuse. He pledged to serve in the Navy just three months prior to the 9/11 attacks, a pivotal moment that began his career in leadership. Conole considers himself a moderate Democrat. He first ran unsuccessfully for a Congressional seat in New York’s 24th district in 2020. 
  • Who’s Brandon Williams? Williams, 55, served in the Navy as a strategic missile officer on a nuclear submarine. He is an entrepreneur and self-described “Reagan-era” Republican who moved permanently to Sennett in Cayuga County in 2019. He lives just outside the district he is running to represent. 
  • How did redistricting affect the district? All Congressional districts were redrawn throughout 2021 and 2022 because of population changes in the 2020 census. Onondaga County used to within New York’s 24th Congressional District but is now represented by the 22nd Congressional District, which includes all of Onondaga, Madison and Oneida counties and very small part of Oswego County. Claudia Tenney who now represents the 22nd District is running to represent a redrawn 24th District. 
  • Who has previously represented Onondaga County? The district representing Onondaga County has only had one Democratic representative in the last 40 years: Dan Maffei, who served two nonconsecutive terms. Rep. John Katko, who currently represents Onondaga County in Congress, beat Maffei in 2014. Katko has held the seat since he beat Maffei. He announced his retirement earlier this year. Former Rep. Jim Walsh served the district for 20 years. Walsh’s son, independent Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh, endorsed Conole in this year’s race. 

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Chris Libonati

Chris Libonati covers government, accountability and equity. Have a tip? Contact Chris at 585-290-0718 or libonati@centralcurrent.org.