So we learned this week that State Assemblyman Pete Lopez plans to run as Chris Gibson’s successor in the 19th Congressional District next year. (Gibson himself is supposedly considering a run for governor somewhere down the road.) This is depressing news indeed.
It’s depressing on two counts.
First, Lopez is unqualified, even by the meager standards of today’s U.S. Congress. He is a local politician, in every sense of the word. And, he holds far-right views that are out of step with many voters in this district. He would actually represent a step backward from Chris Gibson.
Pete Lopez. Photo: David Lee, Columbia-Green Media.
The second reason that a projected Lopez run is depressing news is the fact he could win.
The National Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee took the announcement of a Lopez run seriously enough to issue a response. "For a disturbing preview of what Assemblyman Lopez would do in Washington, voters only need to look at his record in Albany," the committee noted, citing Lopez votes against equal pay for women and against increasing domestic violence protections.
Lopez has cultivated a "nice guy" persona that has served him well in a district where lots of disadvantaged and less thoughtful voters are impressed by his apparent earnestness and ubiquity (Lopez attends nearly every local function imaginable). He has good name recognition throughout the district, along with an aura of friendliness and good intentions. These are superficial and misleading assets but they are assets nonetheless, and a weak Democratic candidate may have a tough time overcoming them.
Lopez is not yet guaranteed to be the Republican candidate, and Gibson has not yet endorsed him. A number of other Republicans are interested, including Columbia County Republican Committee member John Faso.
But regardless of who runs for the Republicans, the Democratic leaders in this region will need to field a far stronger candidate than they have in the past two Congressional elections. One hopes they’re already hard at work and planning to do just that.