ALBANY — New York allies of President Donald Trump, led by state GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy, are cranking up the heat on upstate congressional Democrats in swing districts in an effort to make them pay a political price for the impeachment inquiry now dominating discussion at the nation's Capitol.
The Republicans are calling the campaign, launched this week, the "Stop the Madness Tour," and acknowledge it is being conducted with the blessing of Trump's re-election campaign.
Langworthy traveled Thursday to Dutchess County to criticize two Democrats representing districts Trump carried in 2016, Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-Rhinebeck, and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-Putnam County.
Both Delgado and Maloney have signaled their support for the impeachment inquiry but have stopped short of saying an effort to remove Trump from office should begin immediately, as some more progressive Democrats have insisted.
Langworthy, in an interview with CNHI, made it clear he doesn't see much of a difference in the position of the various New York Democrats representing congressional districts. He accused the Democrats of desperately scheming to "derail" the Trump administration because they fear Trump will win re-election.
The jousting was sparked by Democratic efforts to scrutinize Trump's phone call urging the leader of the Ukrainian government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
Democrats such as Delgado, a freshman representative planning to seek re-election next year in the 19th District, are "trying to have it both ways" by insisting they are not yet in favor of a full impeachment proceeding at the same time they back the inquiry, Langworthy said.
"He is trying to split hairs," Langworthy said of Delgado. "You are either with this charade or you're not. This is a district the President carried in 2016 and I'm confident he will carry it again."
Delgado told reporters earlier this week he believes coming out now for an impeachment could "undermine" the inquiry, since the inquiry is being conducted to determine if Congress should move forward with impeachment — and no conclusions have yet been made.
Trump, in facing Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016, won the 19th Congressional District by 6.8 points. Political analysts said that Democrats in districts where Trump has many supporters will need to proceed very cautiously on the impeachment investigation.
"The handful of congressional members in swing districts have to keep their eye on the left and on the right," said Larry Levy, director of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University.
These legislators, Levy said, could find themselves becoming the regular targets of Trump's core constituents if they focus too much on impeachment, but if they ignore the subject they risk drawing a primary challenge from a more left-leaning rival. And with the 2020 general election now more than a year away, he added, there is still time for them to "pivot" in their position by the time voters go to the polls.
Doug Muzzio, a Baruch College political science professor who has a summer home in upstate Delaware County, part of Delgado's district, said the Republicans are seizing on the impeachment issue to "rile up their base" in ways that could leave upstate Democrats in competitive regions vulnerable next year.
"There is gridlock with everything in Washington now, and they don't have much else to talk about, and so if impeachment is the only thing you have, then you hammer it," Muzzio said.
Other representatives being targeted now by the Republicans include Reps. Anthony Brindisi, D-Utica, and Max Rose, D-Staten Island. Both men also represent districts Trump won three years ago. Brindisi, whose 22nd District stretches includes Chenango County, is the lone New York Democrat who has balked at endorsing the impeachment inquiry.
In Johnstown Friday, Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-North Country, a Trump ally, told reporters that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Washington's most powerful Democrat, has been "shielding" congressional Democrats from having a vote on the inquiry.
House committees moving forward with the inquiry have issued subpoenas for testimony and records to some administration officials as well as to Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
A national poll released this week by Fox News reported 51 percent of registered voters support removing Trump from office through impeachment, while 40 percent oppose impeachment and 4 percent say they back impeachment but oppose his removal from office. The Fox poll also found 57 percent of suburban women favor the impeachment of Trump.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com