Onondaga County Legislator Peggy Chase knows the election is more than a year away, but she thinks Francis Conole can do what three Democrats before him did not: Defeat Republican U.S. Rep. John Katko in the 24th Congressional District race.
Chase, who chairs the 5th Ward Democratic Committee in Syracuse, endorsed Conole, D-Syracuse, for Congress. It's the first public endorsement for any Democratic candidate in the 2020 campaign.
Conole is one of three Democrats seeking the party's nomination to challenge Katko, R-Camillus, next year. The other Democrats are Dana Balter, who lost to Katko in 2018, and Roger Misso.
Chase is impressed with Conole, a U.S. Navy veteran who most recently served as a policy adviser to ex-Defense Secretary James Mattis. After finishing his appointment at the Pentagon, he returned to central New York. He launched his congressional campaign in April.
"He has good Democratic values, which of course I'm all in for," Chase said Monday. "He is intelligent. He is reasonable."
She also likes Conole's central New York roots. His family has been in the region for four generations. His grandmother was a Syracuse teacher. His grandfather, Patrick Corbett, is the only Democrat ever elected Onondaga County sheriff.
Conole's parents live in Skaneateles. His father worked as a health care administrator. His mother wrote for the Post-Standard in Syracuse.
"I've known his family for a lot of years and I know how committed they are to making things as well as they can in central New York," Chase said.
Conole welcomed Chase's support.
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"Legislator Peggy Chase has dedicated her life to serving the people of Onondaga County as a nurse, community leader and public servant, and I'm honored to earn her endorsement," he said in a statement. "I look forward to working with her to support the people of central New York."
Chase supported Balter, D-Syracuse, during the 2018 campaign. Before the primary last year, she was one of several elected officials who endorsed Balter over Juanita Perez Williams for the Democratic nomination.
At the time, Balter was the designated Democratic candidate in the 24th district race. Chase said she was "being a good Democrat" when she backed Balter and tried to help her during the campaign.
"I can't do that again," she said.
Chase acknowledged that Katko is a tough opponent. He won the congressional races in 2014 and 2016 by at least 20 points. In 2018, a year that was bad for the GOP across the country, he won by five points in a district where Democrats have the voter enrollment advantage.
Katko intends to seek re-election in 2020. He raised more than $284,000 in the first quarter of 2019.
Chase believes Conole is the best Democrat in the field. She highlighted his experience and issue positions, including his pledge to refuse donations from corporate political action committees. Balter and Misso, like Conole, pledged to not accept corporate PAC money.
The 2020 primary election is 13 months away and the general election is in more than 17 months. But Chase likes that Conole has been active early in the campaign. She praised him for visiting communities, including Auburn, throughout the district.
"I think that he would be a good force for bringing us together," she said.