AUBURN — Up until a month ago, it appeared Dana Balter was a lock to secure the Democratic nomination to face U.S. Rep. John Katko, a Republican, in the 24th Congressional District race.
But former Syracuse mayoral candidate Juanita Perez Williams entered the congressional race and is seeking the Democratic nod. While local Democratic leaders have rallied around Balter, D-Syracuse, Perez Williams has the support of national Democrats, most notably the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee hasn't formally endorsed Perez Williams, a Syracuse Democrat, but it supported her effort to secure a primary ballot spot and added her to its "Red to Blue" program, an initiative that helps Democratic challengers in competitive House races.
During an appearance at the Auburn Rotary Club's luncheon Tuesday, Balter was asked by an attendee why she thinks the national Democrats have "such a disdain" for her candidacy that they would support Perez Williams.
Balter didn't seem to agree with the characterization of how she is viewed by the DCCC and national Democrats, but she offered her opinion of why the national party is backing Perez Williams in the 24th district race.
She said the national Democrats have placed a heavy emphasis on fundraising. By congressional campaign standards, Balter hasn't been a prodigious fundraiser. In April, she reported raising more than $120,000 in the first quarter of 2018. But there were three other Democrats in the field for more than half of the quarter.
What the national Democrats don't consider, according to Balter, is the support from voters in the district.
Balter received the designation from the four Democratic county committees in the 24th district. When she circulated petitions to get on the ballot, her team collected more than 8,000 signatures for the Democratic, Women's Equality and Working Families party lines.
She believes the national Democrats should've talked to supporters of the campaign and local Democratic leaders before deciding to back someone else to run against Katko.
"They don't pay attention to those things, which I was hoping was going to be one of the lessons out of the 2016 election cycle that national parties learned. And they seemed to not learn those lessons," she said. "So we're going to show them the right way to do politics and that you can be successful when you do it the right way and maybe they will learn the lesson."
Balter also thinks her willingness to break with the party when it's best for her district clashes with what the national Democrats want in a candidate.
"I think we're seeing people run all across the country with that kind of perspective and I think it makes the political establishment nervous," she said. "I think they don't like that because it means that they lose a little bit of control."
The appearance was the first of two Balter has scheduled in Auburn this week. On Thursday, she will hold a town hall meeting at the Phoenix Building. The event, which runs from 6 to 7 p.m., is open to the public.
Balter will face Perez Williams in the Democratic primary. The primary election will be held Tuesday, June 26. The winner will have the Democratic line against Katko in the general election.