Rep. Tom Reed of Corning may be a rising star in Republican ranks in Washington, but he’s facing a spirited young Democratic challenger who’s going to every length to shoot him out of the sky.
Nate Shinagawa, the 28-year-old vice chairman of the Tompkins County Legislature, has raised far more money than Reed’s 2010 opponent.
And a poll conducted by Public Policy Polling showed Shinagawa only 5 percentage points behind Reed, although the Reed camp questioned the results because the sample included slightly more Democrats than Republicans.
Shinagawa has tailored his message to every corner of the far-flung 23rd Congressional District, which stretches from Chautauqua County eastward to Ithaca.
He stresses his differences with Reed over an electrical power issue in Dunkirk, over hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, or “fracking,” and over the lack of a federal Farm Bill, while Reed focuses on his record of constituent service and his conservative stance on spending, taxes and the economy.
One central theme ties together those strands of Shinagawa’s argument.
“I feel like the congressman is out of touch when it comes to helping people in this district,” said Shinagawa, a medical administrator for a nonprofit hospital chain who moved to the district more than a decade ago.
Reed insists that Shinagawa doesn’t mesh with the 23rd District, where Republicans have a 3-point edge.
“The campaign he’s running is that of a Democrat from Ithaca,” Reed said. “I don’t think that fits the entire district very well.”
Shinagawa has raised $709,727 and bought television time in four of the district’s five media markets, including Buffalo. But Reed, who has raised nearly $2 million, maintains a stronger advertising presence.
There’s no doubt, though, that Shinagawa is taking the fight directly to the incumbent congressman.
In Western New York for example, he’s blasting Reed for his support of a power transmission project that aims to bring Canadian hydropower to the New York City area. The union that represents workers at the NRG plant in Dunkirk argues that the project threatens the facility’s future.
“Congressman Reed is taking the lead on a project that not only ships jobs out of our country and our district, but will cost taxpayers more to make it happen,” Shinagawa said.
For his part, Reed said he backs the Canadian project because he’s all for cheap power – and that his opponent is not. Proof of that, Reed said, is Shinagawa’s opposition to hydraulic fracturing.
While Shinagawa says he has seen no evidence that fracking can be done safely, Reed is an outspoken advocate of the practice who formed a Marcellus Shale Caucus as one of his first moves in the House.
“Cheap power is one of the things that will keep us competitive in the world market,” Reed said. “It will increase the chance of us getting new manufacturing plants in Western New York and upstate New York.”
And while Shinagawa said Reed is complicit in the House’s failure to pass a Farm Bill – leaving farmers uncertain about the future of federal programs – Reed blamed it on a House-Senate stalemate.
Despite their deep differences, the two candidates both have ebullient personalities that make them well-suited to the campaign trail.
What they stress, though, is far different.
Shinagawa praises the Affordable Care Act and says that, with his background as a medical administrator, he can add a knowing voice to the health care debate.
In contrast, Reed wants to repeal the Obama health care law while keeping its most popular provisions, including the ban on insurance companies discriminating against those with pre-existing conditions.
Shinagawa says taxes on high-income people must be raised as part of a comprehensive solution to the nation’s budget crisis – as must repeal of tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas.
But Reed, a member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee who has made taming the deficit one of his central goals, said tax rates should go down as part of a comprehensive tax reform and budget-balancing plan that eliminates many deductions.
The candidates’ personal stories differ, too.
Shinagawa, who is of Japanese and Korean descent, talks on the trail about his grandfather’s experiences in an internment camp in World War II, as well as his own experience forging the first bipartisan budget that Tompkins County had seen in years.
“I have a history of bipartisanship, and I don’t think Congressman Reed has that attribute,” he said.
Reed stresses his family’s deep roots in Corning and his own bipartisan record. Every bill he has introduced has had a Democratic co-sponsor,he says, and he’s part of the bipartisan “Go Big Coalition” aiming at a compromise budget solution.
“I’m very practical in the approach to things,” Reed said. “That’s the way people are in this district. It’s in our blood.”
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