New York’s 19th congressional district, along the sleepy Hudson River valley, could play host to one of the most-watched House races of 2014.
The Republican incumbent, Representative Chris Gibson, was elected in the GOP wave of 2010. But now Sean Eldridge, a wealthy 26-year-old activist and liberal darling, is seriously mulling a run.
Eldridge is married to Facebook co-founder and New Republic publisher and editor-in-chief Chris Hughes. The couple has already won fawning treatment from the New York Times, which ran a 2012 piece about them headlined “A Powerful Combination” and earlier this month ran a front-page piece about their move to the 19th district headlined “Young, Rich and Relocating Yet Again in Hunt for Political Office.”
The National Republican Congressional Committee is closely watching. “You have to take it seriously any time somebody has $700 million at their disposal” to challenge a GOP incumbent, says NRCC press secretary Ian Prior. But Eldridge, Prior says, is “just looking to leverage his wealth into a congressional seat,” and “I don’t think that narrative is going to work in the 19th district.”
“We won’t keep up” in fundraising, Gibson says bluntly. “We understand that we’re going to be outspent.”
“But we still think we can win decisively because there’s some things money can’t buy,” he remarks. “Among these are votes.” And Gibson had an impressive showing in 2012: He was reelected with almost 53 percent of the vote in a district that President Obama won by six points.
Gibson grew up in a Democratic family; as a teen in upstate New York in the late Seventies Gibson was one of four children in an Irish Catholic family. Times were tough for the family during that decade’s economic woes. Gibson’s father, a mechanic, spent “a lot of time laid off or on strike,” Gibson recalls.
“Gas and heating prices were spiking and food prices were going up, so it was a very challenging period for my family,” Gibson says. “I don’t recommend this, but my dad — to help us get through the winter, he bought a kerosene heater, and he had it in the kitchen so that the furnace wouldn’t have to kick off.”