Chuck Schumer, left, and Joe Pinion
Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democratic and the majority leader of the U.S. Senate, is running for reelection for another six-year term this year, facing Republican and Conservative Party nominee Joe Pinion, a political news commentator.
Schumer, who has been in office since 1999, has only risen to prominence since ascending to majority leader when Democrats took the Senate through the 2020 election. He holds commanding leads in polls and fundraising against his relatively unknown opponent, often faring far better in polling than his fellow Democratic incumbents in this year’s statewide contests.
Pinion and Schumer faced each other Sunday night in the only debate of the race, on Spectrum News and moderated by anchors Errol Louis and Susan Arbetter at Union College in Schenectady. During the hour-long debate, the two candidates offered differing perspectives on a wide variety of issues and political dynamics.
Schumer, who hails from Brooklyn and was previously in the U.S. House of Representatives, is one of New York’s most popular elected officials and an omnipresent one, known for his annual tour of every one of the state’s 62 counties, now 23 years in a row.
When Democrats took control of the 50-50 U.S. Senate given the vice president’s tie-breaking vote when needed, Schumer became the first Jewish official and the first New Yorker to become majority leader. Since then, he has delivered a series of major victories for the party, including several high-profile and big-dollar bills that have benefited his home state. Though he once described himself as an “angry centrist” and was viewed with suspicion from some on the left who believe he may be too moderate or aligned with business interests, he has since championed many progressive priorities including fighting for climate action, strengthening the social safety net, forgiving student loan debt, decriminalizing marijuana, reforming the immigration system, and more.
Under Schumer’s leadership, in partnership with President Joe Biden and the U.S. House majority, Democrats have passed a slew of major bills — occasionally with some Republican support — that have had or are projected to have significant impact on the country and state. Some of them have faced fierce criticism from Republicans, of course.
That list includes the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan to provide economic stimulus and relief from the Covid-19 pandemic, the bipartisan $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law enacted in November last year, which will send about $27 billion to New York State alone, and the Safer Communities Act, the first major gun control legislation in decades. Schumer also negotiated the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, the strongest piece of legislation to tackle climate change to ever pass Congress and one that is bound to assist in New York’s own climate goals. Pinion, like other Republicans, has criticized Schumer, Biden, and Democrats for what they call overspending, and not doing enough to combat inflation.
Schumer also successfully championed the CHIPS & Science legislation, to provide federal semiconductor manufacturing incentives, which facilitated Governor Kathy Hochul’s Green CHIPS program that will create thousands of jobs in the state. (Following those actions, Micron Technology announced it would make a massive investment in New York to build the largest semiconductor fabrication facility in the country, creating tens of thousands of jobs.)
Schumer’s reelection ads often focus on his effort to “Save Our Stages,” the major federal funding that he secured to buoy performance venues from Broadway to comedy clubs and beyond.
A Yonkers native, Pinion is the first Black person to be a major party’s Senate nominee in New York. He has been a nonprofit worker, entrepreneur, and television news commentator. Most recently, he hosted his own show, “Saturday Agenda,” on the conservative cable channel Newsmax.
According to his Linkedin profile, after graduating from Colgate University in 2006, he co-founded Fandome.com, a sports video and news platform where he served as director of content acquisition till 2011. In 2013, he became director of youth development at Morris Heights Health Center in the Bronx, working there till 2016. Since then, he has been a national spokesperson for RePublicEN, a right-leaning group that promotes free market ideas to tackle climate change. He has been a board member of the Listen First Project since 2018 and, in 2018, he launched the Pinion Media Group, a digital multimedia company.
Pinion’s campaign website lists no accomplishments, agenda, or priorities. But in an October interview with WENY News, he said that if elected his main focus areas will be improving education, creating a constitutional right to literacy, establishing school choice in law nationwide, reducing disparities in rural health care, and tackling the flow of illegal drugs into the country. He’s run against Schumer with a significant focus on school choice and his support for charter schools, which Democrats often oppose.
Pinion also seemed confident that his challenge has Schumer worried. “The reason we haven't elected a Republican to the United States Senate? It is because we haven't really tried," Pinion told WENY News. “Chuck Schumer is running ads right now in Syracuse, in Utica, in Elmira, all across Chemung. He's not doing it because he just wants to spend money. He's doing it because he recognizes that he has a real fight.”
At Sunday’s Spectrum News debate, Schumer and Pinion differed on a variety of issues, including the success of Schumer’s record as Senate Majority Leader, the position he has held for nearly two years.
Schumer touted his work leading the Senate and working with a Democratic House majority and president, including bringing massive amounts of federal funding back to New York, “the most important climate change bill ever,” including help for home energy cost-reduction, the bipartisan gun safety legislation, student debt relief he said he pressured President Biden to order, and more.
Pinion took on what he called the Schumer “legend,” saying while the long-time New York senator “an exceptional politician” but not all he’s cracked up to be in terms of delivering for the state. He criticized Schumer over high costs of living and limited economic opportunity, among other issues.
At the debate, Schumer pointed to the covid pandemic as the key driver of supply chain problems and inflation across the globe, and outlined steps that he and the federal government have taken to bring down costs, such as movement on job-creation, capping prescription drug costs, and building renewable energy. Pinion, on the other hand, pointed to the trillions of dollars in federal pandemic-response as a key driver of inflation.
Pinion vowed to protect Social Security and said that if Republicans are to pass further tax cuts, they should focus on the middle class, calling for completely redoing the tax code.
Schumer said Sunday night that if President Biden runs again in 2024 he plans to support him. Pinion, asked about former President Trump running again, sidestepped the question to discuss his signature issue of education.
In their ‘cross-examination round,’ Schumer referenced the racist Buffalo massacre earlier this year and asked Pinion about whether he would join him in supporting an assault weapons ban. Pinion said “no” and focused his answer on removing “illegal guns” from the streets, finding the points where legal guns become illegal guns and crafting solutions.
After mentioning the crises of poverty, crime, and educational failure in New York, Pinion asked Schumer about why he hasn’t prioritized “standing up for New Yorkers.” Schumer discussed measures he has led on to address the issues Pinion mentioned, including, for example, the expanded child tax credit that he said he and many Democrats wanted to make permanent but Republicans were against.
Pinion, who is anti-abortion, has repeatedly called reproductive rights a states issue, indicating he does not think it should be legislated at the federal level in the wake of the Supreme Court overturnng Roe v. Wade. At Sunday’s debate, Pinion repeatedly declined to give his stance on abortion rights, instead calling it “settled law in New York state” and saying “I do not support a national ban.”
Schumer is staunchly pro-choice and hopes to see Democrats retain and grow their House and Senate majorities in order to codify Roe abortion rights into federal law in 2023. “If people don’t want that national ban [on abortion], which would overrule New York’s law, they have to elect Democrats to the Senate because we want to preserve a woman’s right to choose with Roe and all its protections.”
Polling, Money, and the State of the Race
A Siena College poll of 707 likely voters released October 18 had Schumer leading with 57% of the vote compared to Pinion’s 37%. In the poll, 53% gave Schumer a favorable rating, 40% gave him an unfavorable rating while only 7% either didn’t know him or refused to answer either way.
For Pinion, his favorable and unfavorable rating was matched, at just 8%, while 84% did not know him or did not weigh in.
Schumer has raised more than $36 million since January 2020 for his reelection campaign, and has spent about $26.5 million. As of September 30, he had more than $20 million in cash on hand. Seeing little threat to his own chances, Schumer has been funneling funds from those deep coffers into Democratic races across the country to defend the party’s precarious hold on the Senate.
Pinion has raised just under $400,000 for his campaign and has spent nearly all of it. As of September 30, he had just $7,533 left and owed nearly $65,000 in campaign debt.
Pinion defeating Schumer would be nothing short of a miracle in deep blue New York, especially given Schumer's fundraising, name recognition, and popularity. The state hasn’t elected a Republican Senator in 30 years, since Al D'Amato served three terms in office and lost to Schumer in 1998, and no GOP nominee has won any statewide race since 2002 (a streak gubernatorial hopeful Rep. Lee Zeldin appears to have the best chance to break of any Republican nominee this year).
Election Day is November 8; early voting runs October 29-November 6.
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
Ben Max contributed to this article.