Although Poughkeepsie fashion designer Ola Hawatmeh lost the Republican primary to Kyle Van De Water of Millbrook in New York’s 19th Congressional district, she hasn’t stopped campaigning this fall. She spoke with WAMC's Capital Region Bureau Chief Dave Lucas about her write-in effort.
First-term Congressman Antonio Delgado is running for re-election in the 19th congressional district, which experts say is likely to stay with the Democrats this cycle. Green Party candidate Steve Greenfield of New Paltz is also in the race along with Van De Water and Libertarian Victoria Alexander.
Hawatmeh led by several hundred votes on primary night, but Van De Water won by several thousand once absentee ballots were counted. So why is Hawatmeh's hat still in the ring? She cites one reason: she doesn't consider Van De Water to be "a real candidate."
"I reached out to the New York State Republican chair Nick Langworthy offering my support. And I told him that I support and let's unite. I heard crickets back, nothing back. What does that tell me? That tells me they do not want to have an active campaign to win the seats. That tells me they are not passionate about winning the seat. Therefore, I said I'm for the people, with the people, even being told it would ruin my political career. I did not decide to run for Congress for a career in politics. I decided to run to change the way things are in this country and to save this country from socialism."
Hawatmeh, who is 43, says conceding the seat to Delgado is not an option.
"I hear Antonio Delgado has $4 million, over $4 million. And Kyle has $50,000. Hasn't put out anything that we have seen, hasn't traveled the district or meet and greets, not much. And so we cannot sit back and give up or we cannot ... this is what the leaders want, so this is what we'll do? No. Ola For Congress campaign is a campaign for the people. It's not about me. It's about the people in the district. And it's about their voices that matter."
Hawatmeh acknowledges that with a crowded field and a popular incumbent, she faces an uphill battle in the 11-county district.
"So what are the chances of me winning? Very slim. What are the chances of me getting a ton of write-ins that empowers the people in the district to keep pushing and fighting for their rights, for less taxes for more jobs? It's a big chance. I think it's a movement. It's not a campaign. I mean, I call it a movement."
Hawatmeh says the district's family farmers and small businesses are hurting, thanks to several factors including the pandemic, and she sees tax breaks as an immediate way of easing their financial burdens. She also points out that although COVID19 has overshadowed it, the opioid crisis has not gone away, issues she believes will result in votes.
"By writing Ola Hawatmeh on the ballot, that is empowering the people to decide who they want to vote for. They want to vote for someone that is for them, that is with them. That will make changes and getting the people involved in the changes, not just talk. This talk is cheap. They want someone that actually cares. There's no compassion in Congress. And that's what Ola Hawatmeh is about, compassion."
An avid Trump supporter, Hawatmeh says she dearly values an endorsement given by right-wing broadcaster Sean Hannity.
"It was the first write-in that he had ever. He had tweeted 'What's going on in New York 19 is disgusting. Don't forget about the option #WriteInOlaHawatmeh.' And that is why I'm a registered conservative. He had my back, Sean Hannity he still has my back. Charles Payne, Gina Loudon, the Trump administration. And so I was, you know, I don't think the president's going to endorse Kyle, as they think that he was. I know for a fact that the president was going to endorse me the Wednesday after primary night. But things changed. So, we will see. Again, it's about unity, making a difference and, and not giving up. We cannot give up, especially at a time like this. Our country has seen so much to turn around and just give up, we can't. And that's the whole purpose for this campaign."
When the election is over, Hawatmeh vows to press on...
"I will not give up on the people as I told them, I said the chances of us winning the write-in is very slim. But I've created this energy throughout the district that I cannot turn my back to. So I love it and I will not turn my back to them. We will continue, I will continue to work with farmers, small business owners, schools, board of election, I will continue to work with them. So I will not turn my back. Not about, it's not about a title. It's not about something to put on your resume. It's about making a difference and fulfilling your purpose."