• Democrat Pat Ryan secured a big victory in a special election for a New York battleground seat.
  • Ryan told Insider that voters in his district showed "fire, anger, and indignation" over abortion.
  • "These are bright red lines in our democracy that were crossed," Ryan said. 

The day after a mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, New York congressional candidate Pat Ryan was one of the millions of parents wracked with grief and fear after dropping his young children off at school.

"I've seen scenes in war and combat of horrific carnage, but to think that is happening at a school in the United States of America, again? And now to wrestle with this as a dad, a parent, a leader…I'm so sad. I'm so angry," Ryan, a 40-year-old local elected official and Army veteran said, sitting in his car after school dropoff and talking unscripted to a camera, in a video he later posted on YouTube.

Ryan's unvarnished pain and anger were palpable through the screen. And he successfully channeled it into a major special election victory in an Upstate New York battleground district, a significant boost for Democrats heading into the November midterms. 

On Tuesday, Ryan defeated Republican Marc Molinaro in a special election for New York's 19th Congressional District, which President Joe Biden won by just 1.5 points in 2020. As of Wednesday morning, with some votes still left to be counted, Ryan was leading Molinaro by 2.2 points. 

Biden's dismal approval ratings, two years of a pandemic, turmoil in New York politics, and a messy redistricting process confusing voters, were all factors working against Ryan when he launched his special election campaign. 

But in a mid-August interview with Insider, Ryan said a series of Supreme Court decisions overturning Roe v. Wade and invalidating a New York gun restriction law "cleared the fog and woke people up."

"I think we're at the point where the campaign's gotten bigger than me," Ryan told Insider. "The fire, anger, and indignation after the Dobbs decision, and the gun decision, and the EPA decision and January 6 — that is really translating here to a lot of energy and momentum for us."

The Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs ending 50 years of federal abortion protections represented a watershed victory for the party out of power and galvanized Democrats, upended the traditional midterm election dynamic of voters primarily focused on — and penalizing — the party in power. 

"These are bright red lines in our democracy that were crossed, where fundamental rights are being ripped away from people," Ryan said. "The outpouring of indignation into action is very much what we're feeling here on the ground."

Democratic candidate Pat Ryan poses for a photo with supporters during a campaign rally for Ryan, Monday, Aug. 22, 2022, in Kingston, N.Y. Foto: AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

'Address what people care about, and they'll come out to vote'

Ryan's special election victory follows a resounding defeat of an anti-abortion ballot initiative in Kansas and Democratic candidates outperforming Biden's margins in two special elections in Nebraska and Minnesota, results that point to the potency of abortion rights as a mobilizing force for Democrats.

In addition to seizing on the national environment, Ryan's campaign built on old-fashioned shoe-leather campaigning and his service in local politics. "There's no shortcut for hard work," he said.

After his first run for Congress in 2018, Ryan was elected to local government as Ulster County Executive where, he said, he's been "ruthlessly focused on delivering even small things" to voters and cultivating a network of other young leaders. 

Ryan said his strategy relied on "meeting voters where they are," not "losing touch with reality," and speaking "unequivocally and strongly" to issues that matter to people on the campaign trail, from gun violence to student debt.

"It's not surprising: address what people care about, and they'll come out to vote," Ryan said. 

The day after Ryan won his special election, on Wednesday, Biden is expected to announce long-awaited action on student debt relief. But Ryan wants to do more.  

"I've been talking about not only supporting President's call for up to $10,000 in immediate relief, but figuring out how to go further," Ryan told Insider, saying his goal is to create a "robust national service program."

In addition to the national environment, candidate quality matters in special elections — and Ryan's victory is also notable because of who he defeated.

Molinaro, perhaps the strongest possible Republican recruit for the seat, is a longtime local elected official and 2018 Republican nominee for governor who ran a campaign focused on the economy, hammering the Biden administration on issues like inflation and the cost of living. 

"My opponent is the definition of a career politician in all the bad ways. He's been in elected office since he was 18, and has done nothing else," Ryan said of Molinaro. "Whatever intentions he had at the beginning have been overcome by the pursuit of power at the expense of the public good."

Read the original article on Business Insider