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The Auburn/Cayuga NAACP and Indivisible Cayuga organized a candidates forum at Auburn High School featuring the three Democrats hoping to take on Congressman Katko in 2020. The candidates are, l-r,Roger Misso, Francics Conole and Dana Balter.

OSWEGO — Dana Balter wants to finish the job she started in 2018. Francis Conole believes he has the central New York connections to win the race. Roger Misso, a Red Creek native, thinks he can win where Democrats haven't in past campaigns. 

Who's electable? Who can beat Republican U.S. Rep. John Katko in 2020? The three Democratic candidates for the 24th Congressional District race made their pitches at a SUNY Oswego forum Thursday night. 

Each candidate pledged to support the Democratic nominee against Katko, who is seeking a fourth term in Congress. But they offered different explanations for why they're the best choice to take on — and beat — the GOP congressman. 

Conole, D-Syracuse, took a not-so subtle jab at Balter when he highlighted that, in 2018, Katko was one of three Republicans to win in GOP-held districts that Hillary Clinton won in the 2016 presidential election. He also noted that of the three Republicans who won those districts, Katko did so by the largest margin. 

Katko defeated Balter by five percentage points. 

Conole argues he's the best candidate to challenge Katko because of his fundraising ability — he's led the Democratic primary field in fundraising for two quarters in a row — and he's aggressively criticizing Katko "for not doing his job." 

He also believes his longstanding central New York ties set him apart from the other Democrats. And he thinks his experience in the U.S. Navy and the Department of Defense makes him a formidable opponent. 

"I'd be happy to put my resume up against John Katko's any day of the week," he said. 

When it was Balter's turn in the rotation, she addressed the question of how Katko was able to win by a five-point margin in 2018. She reminded the audience that she "moved the vote" by 16 points — a reference to Katko's 21-point win in 2016. 

Balter also explained that she decided to run when others thought Katko wasn't beatable. Katko was favored for much of the 2018 campaign. It wasn't until Balter won the primary by more than 20 points and raised over $1.5 million that Democrats and outside groups took the race seriously. 

"We made this seat competitive," she said. "We broke fundraising records. We broke signature records. We broke volunteer records. We're just 2 1/2 points away from flipping this seat." 

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Balter recalled what Katko said on election night in 2018 — that he hopes Balter "doesn't want to run again in two years, because she's tough." 

"I'm not only running again," Balter said, "I'm coming for him. Come November 2020, we're going to be saying goodbye to John Katko for the final time." 

Misso took a different approach than his fellow Democratic contenders. He touted his ties to the rural parts of the 24th district. He grew up in Red Creek on the Cayuga-Wayne county line. Like Conole, he attended the U.S. Naval Academy and served in the Navy. 

He moved back to central New York and now lives in Syracuse with his wife and two children. But he believes those rural connections to Cayuga and Wayne counties will benefit him in a general election campaign. 

"We are going to make John Katko show up in places he's never had to show up before," Misso said. 

Those places would be Cayuga, Oswego and Wayne counties. In 2018, Katko won each of the three outlying counties in NY-24 by more than 20 points. The results were similar in 2016 and 2014. 

Misso questioned how Katko could win in counties like Cayuga that Barack Obama won in the 2012 presidential election. 

"I'm the candidate that can win Wayne County and Onondaga County," Misso said. "And any candidate that can do that is going to win this election. It's simple math." 

One reason why the candidates are making their respective electability arguments: The designation process is underway. The Onondaga County Democratic Committee held a forum with the congressional candidates last week. 

The county Democratic committees won't designate a candidate until early 2020. Leading up those important meetings, Balter, Conole and Misso will participate in several forums and continue to make the case for why they are the best candidate to challenge Katko in 2020. 

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Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.


Online producer and politics reporter

I have been The Citizen's online producer and politics reporter since December 2009. I'm the author of the Eye on NY blog and write the weekly Eye on NY column that appears every Sunday in the print edition of The Citizen and online at auburnpub.com.