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Rep. Max Rose’s tight re-election race flooded with millions in national PAC dollars

This story was originally published on Oct. 21 by THE CITY. Sign up here to get the latest stories from THE CITY delivered to you each morning.

Outside political groups are pouring millions into the race for Staten Island’s swing-district congressional seat — fueling a growing bonfire of negative ads pitting freshman Rep. Max Rose against challenger Nicole Malliotakis.

The $7.2 million splurge by political action committees and other groups represents nearly as much as Democrat Rose and Malliotakis, a Republican state Assembly member, have spent so far combined in their bids to represent Staten Island and part of southern Brooklyn, records show.

Democrat-dominated New York City’s only competitive House race, unfolding in a district that went for Donald Trump in 2016, is drawing national attention — some of it in the form of money propelling the dueling attack-ad blitz. Look no further than Google search results for each candidate: Opposing outside players have set up paid placements that claim, variously, “Max Rose marches with cop-haters” and that Malliotakis “puts big corporations first.”

There is no public polling available for the congressional district, which Trump won by 10 percentage points in 2016. But analysts said the additional firepower as Democrats and Republicans fight for control of the House sends a clear message. 

“All the negative advertising means that it’s probably really close,” said Richard Flanagan, a political science professor at CUNY’s College of Staten Island.

As of Sept. 30, Rose’s campaign was armed with $2.5 million and, as of Oct. 14, Malliotakis had $314,141 on hand.

Meanwhile, Nov. 3 is quickly approaching with early in-person voting set to start Saturday and some New Yorkers already casting ballots by mail due to the pandemic. 

Rose, whose commercials paint Malliotakis as a “fraud,” has already vastly outspent his rival in that realm, pumping $3.48 million into his paid advertisements.

As of Oct. 14, Malliotakis’ campaign had laid out $835,455 for spots lambasting Rose as an anti-NYPD liberal, campaign filings show.

But she’s attracted crucial support from a pair of GOP political action committees that already have spent about $3.9 million on the race, backing her Trumpian “law and order” message. 

The National Republican Congressional Committee has pitched in $1.3 million and the Congressional Leadership Fund, which is closely aligned with House GOP leaders, has put up $2.6 million to bash Rose, records show. 

A Congressional Leadership Fund spokesperson said Tuesday it’s spent $2.3 million for televised ads alone so far, and that the group plans to keep injecting money into the 11th Congressional District race through Election Day. Both groups are bolstering Malliotakis’ attacks charging that Rose, a moderate Army vet, is a foe of the NYPD — a claim he strongly denies.

The Congressional Leadership Fund has put out some of the cycle’s most damning ads — including one where former NYPD officers rebuke Rose. In another spot, footage of apparently animated images of police cars ablaze is spliced in to imply that peaceful anti-cop protests turned violent on Staten Island. 

“Independent fact checkers are unanimous: Nicole Malliotakis’ ads are false. Max Rose has helped secure hundreds of millions of additional funding for police,” said Jonas Edward-Jenks, a Rose spokesperson, in a statement.

Malliotakis has struggled to keep up with Rose’s fundraising — he’s pulled in $7.8 million to her $3 million — and the torrent of paid advertisements he’s been releasing since the summer. 

Rose has now spent $5.5 million, a record amount for the seat and a little over twice the $2.7 million expended by Malliotakis’ campaign as of Oct. 14.

A broad coalition of political groups — from unions to veterans’ organizations — supporting Rose have injected over $4 million to bolster his run. 

And while the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — the main fundraising arm for House Democrats — is spending a combined $7 million-plus in upstate and Long Island swing districts, the group has ponied up almost $1.8 million for Rose. 

Some groups, such as Vote Vets, have put out positive messaging on Rose’s behalf.

But the vast majority of ads mimic Rose’s volleys against Malliotakis, which include branding her as a lobbyist and untrustworthy.

End Citizens United, a progressive PAC that wants to end unlimited-spending PACs, has invested $693,268 in the race. In September, the group’s leader attacked Malliotakis — claiming she was a lobbyist for Con Ed and supported Mayor Bill de Blasio. 

Rob Ryan, a Malliotakis spokesperson, dismissed the line of attack: “That’s exactly what we suspect from Max Rose and his supporters who are desperate and know that they are losing this race.”

Political observers said the bitter race, with its echoes of the battle for the White House, is seen among national Democrats and Republicans as both a strategic and symbolic must-win. 

On Staten Island and in Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights, the stakes are more personal.

“It’s about their way of life and I think that’s why it’s become so contentious, because people really aren’t sure,” said Randy Franklin, a political consultant with Elevation Strategies who worked with Rose’s campaign in 2018.

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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