Representative Nan Hayworth of New York, first elected with support from the anti-government spending Tea Party movement in 2010, is aiming for the political center in this year’s campaign against a Democrat trying to dredge up her past.
Hayworth, 52, vowed two years ago to “slash federal spending” and attacked “King Barack and his out-of-control Congress,” referring to President Barack Obama and the Democrats who then controlled the Senate and House. Now she boasts of bringing federal money to her district, tells a local television interviewer that she has been “eager to work with Democratic colleagues and with the president all along,” and touts co-founding the Common Ground Caucus with Democratic Representative David Cicilline of Rhode Island.
Though she voted twice for House Republican budgets that would replace traditional Medicare, in her literature and commercials she promises to “fight to keep Medicare safe and reliable,” as images of her elderly parents are shown.
“She was elected on a Tea Party tsunami,” said Representative Steve Israel of New York, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, referring to the electoral wave that swept Republicans into the House majority. “Now the tide has receded and she is left high and dry with her voting record.”
For Hayworth to win re-election, she has to persuade voters to cross party lines because enrolled Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district that covers much of the lower Hudson Valley.
Her challenger, Sean Patrick Maloney, 46, a one-time aide to former President Bill Clinton and former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer and a founder of a software company, is accusing Hayworth of being part of a Republican “war on women” by voting to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood and ending traditional Medicare.
Maloney uses his website, his commercials, his campaign appearances and an interview to highlight those votes. “It’s outrageous to end Medicare so we can give huge new tax cuts to multimillionaires like Nan Hayworth,” Maloney said. “People should know the choice is between a Bill Clinton Democrat who wants to save Medicare and a Tea Party Republican who wants to end it.”
Hayworth’s voting record puts her 217th among the 240 House Republicans based on how often she votes with her party, according to Open Congress, founded by the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington-based nonpartisan group. The League of Conservation Voters, an environmental group, gives her a 43 percent favorable rating, fourth-highest among House Republicans.
Hayworth voted against legislation pushed by her party’s House leadership that would block regulations that could harm the coal industry and prevent the federal government from regulating greenhouse gases to reduce the emissions blamed for global warming. She also opposed a bill backed by the Republican leaders to outlaw abortions based on the gender of the fetus.
“My votes have been consistent with the needs of the people of my district,” Hayworth said. “By their very nature, they’re going to be more centrist.”
Democrats highlight other parts of Hayworth’s voting record, including support for the House Republican budget sponsored by Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the party’s vice-presidential nominee. The budget, blocked by Senate Democrats, would reduce the top income-tax rates, cut social programs and replace Medicare with vouchers to purchase private insurance or a government plan with a cap on expenditures when those 55 and younger become eligible.
Another bill she supported included eliminating the federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which performs abortions in addition to providing health screenings and contraceptives, and also would have ended the funding for other family-planning programs for lower-income Americans and reduced Pell grants for college students.
Hayworth was endorsed two years ago by FreedomWorks, a Tea Party-aligned group. On her campaign blog in September 2010, she pledged to cut taxes and “slash federal spending.”
At a meeting in Goshen, New York, in December 2009, she declared, “The first American Revolution, as we know, was prosecuted against King George III and his out-of-control parliament, and today we have King Barack and his out-of-control Congress,” according to an account in the Mid-Hudson News.
In the 2010 election, she defeated Democrat John Hall, a former rock musician who was seeking a third term, by close to six percentage points.
FreedomWorks, which gives Hayworth a 57 percent favorable rating on her voting record, is withholding support of her in this election.
“We consider our endorsement something to be earned and re-earned every election cycle,” said Jacqueline Bodnar, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based group. “So if a voting record from a sitting member of Congress does not measure up to our fiscally conservative positions on economic policy, then we can’t credibly endorse him or her.”
Hayworth isn’t backing down from her votes, saying they are aimed at helping her constituents. “What keeps them up at night is being able to afford to live here, being able to afford to put food on the table and gas in the tank. Those are universal concerns,” she said.
She defended her vote on Medicare while meeting voters at the Sept. 30 Founder’s Day celebration in Brewster, New York, insisting it was wrong to characterize what she called “premium support” to buy private insurance as “vouchers.” She told Ann Fanizzi of Carmel, a retired New York City teacher and assistant principal, “it’s not a voucher. It never was. You can tell the truth now to people.”
Fanizzi wasn’t convinced. “The concern is that Medicare be maintained,” she said later. “The devil is in the details.”
Retired small-business owner William Whipp said he doesn’t like the details. “I’ll give you a voucher to go buy the Brooklyn Bridge,” said Whipp, a Maloney supporter.
Hayworth also stresses her efforts to help her district.
“The last question she asks is, ‘What do my constituents expect me to do?’” said Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell, a Republican supporting the congresswoman. “That’s why she has been an effective leader.”
Among the constituents Hayworth greeted in Brewster was Meri Verille, owner of a local pet and house-sitting service whose daughter Sarah had lost a Navy scholarship to Boston College because of an eye issue. Hayworth, an ophthalmologist, intervened and successfully pressed for the scholarship to be awarded, and Sarah Verille is preparing for a career as a naval officer.
“Nan did everything for us,” Mari Verille said. “Nobody had time to listen to my story. She listened.”
Hayworth also worked to secure federal funding to rebuild the Tappan Zee Bridge across the Hudson River and to obtain Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to repair local damage after Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in 2011.
“When there is an appropriate or justifiable role for federal dollars to be deployed in my district, it is my job to make sure that gets done,” Hayworth said.
Others say Hayworth hasn’t done enough. A fourth-generation onion farmer in Warwick, Chris Pawelski, says Hayworth wouldn’t help get emergency funding to pay for crops lost in the storms.
“If you don’t fight for that,” said Pawelski, “that’s a cardinal sin.”