Rock musician-turned-politician John Hall, elected in the 2006 wave of victories that gave Democrats control of the U.S. House, spent the last four years working to consolidate his hold on a district anchored in New York’s Hudson Valley.
He has focused on veterans’ issues, health care and the small businesses that drive the economy in a district spread over five counties. He visits senior centers and entrepreneurs, marches in holiday parades, and kayaks down the Hudson River with constituents. He helped push the Small Business Jobs Act through Congress, which funneled new loan money to banks.
After defeating six-term Republican Sue Kelly to first win his seat with 51 percent of the vote, Hall sailed to re-election in 2008 with 59 percent. This year, the former guitarist and songwriter for Orleans, known for the 1976 hit “Still the One,” is among scores of Democrats nationwide fighting to hold their seats as polls show the party may lose its House majority in the Nov. 2 elections.
In more typical political times “most freshmen do get re-elected, and sophomores are even more likely, because they overcome the first wave of opposition,” said Robert Erikson, a political scientist at New York’s Columbia University. “But this will be offset by the partisan tide” this year that may give Republicans the net gain of 39 seats they need for House control.
In New York, the upstate seat that Democrat Eric Massa resigned from in March is rated a likely Republican pickup by analysts. As many as seven other Democrats among the 26 in New York’s House delegation are viewed as vulnerable to defeat.
Hall, 62, is being challenged by Republican Nan Hayworth, 50, an ophthalmologist and advertising executive whose backers include Tea Party activists promoting reduced government.
A survey released Oct. 19 by Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey, judged the race “a virtual tie,” the pollsters said in a statement, with Hall at 49 percent and Hayworth at 48 percent. The poll’s margin of error is plus-or-minus 3.9 percentage points.
The candidates had roughly the same amount of cash on hand for the campaign’s final weeks, with Hall reporting $268,037 as of Oct. 13 and Hayworth $265,590, according to the Federal Election Commission. Hayworth had spent $1.5 million, loaned her campaign $500,000, and taken more than $220,000 from political action committees and campaign committees, the FEC figures show. Hall had spent almost $1.9 million, taken no loans, and accepted $560,000 from campaign committees and PACs.
The campaign has been marked by dueling on-line videos. Four young Hayworth supporters remixed Orleans’ 1975 hit “Dance With Me,” changing the lyrics to: “Vote With Me; Let’s Get John Hall to Leave D.C.”
Hall, who organized the 1979 “No Nukes” concerts that brought together Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne and Graham Nash, got old friends to remix “Still the One” as “He’s Still the One We Need in Washington.”
Hall is stressing his work for the district rather than broader national issues. At a senior-citizens home last month in Poughkeepsie, he told his listeners he helped bring a solar panel factory to the Hudson Valley and corralled federal dollars to build sewage plants, keep open hospitals and post offices, and start job-training programs.
“My opponent has pledged not to ask for earmarks,” Hall said in an interview, referring to federal funding that lawmakers seek for home-district projects. “That means our tax dollars will go to pay for projects in Texas and Alaska.”
Hayworth scorns Hall as a tax-and-spend Democrat who marches in lockstep with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and ignores the plight of the region’s small businesses. She cites his vote for the health-care overhaul Congress passed in March, saying it will weigh down businesses with extra costs.
“He’s voted 98 percent of the time for an agenda put forward by Nancy Pelosi in ways that would damage our economy,” Hayworth told an audience of physicians at the Harness Racing Hall of Fame in Goshen last month. The doctors applauded when she pledged to dismantle the health-care measure.
“This election’s about the economy in the state of New York,” Hayworth said in an interview. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have “been eclipsed by the economy, and people feel they haven’t been heard.”
Seth Arluck, a lumberyard owner in New Hampton who’s been campaigning for Hayworth, said Hall hasn’t done enough for small business. He showed a reporter a notice from his insurer raising his business-related health-care premiums by 25.7 percent. He blames the health-care overhaul.
“It’s not a beef with John Hall, but this economy is being torn to shreds by the people in power,” said Arluck.
Donna McLean, owner of Anew Spa, a beauty and massage salon in New Windsor, is the type of voter Hall is counting on to win a third term.
“I’m a registered Republican and I adore John Hall,” largely because of his push for the small-business aid bill that became law Sept. 27. It made $30 billion in unspent funds from the bank-rescue plan, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, available to small businesses through local lenders. McLean wants a $30,000 loan to buy a skin-care machine.
“He got that into law, and now I can go to Walden Savings and get the loan,” she said.