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Indictment May Make Michael Grimm an Underdog, But He’s Not a Goner

Rep. Michael Grimm, who represents New York’s 11th Congressional District, was arraigned Monday in Federal District Court in Brooklyn on 20 counts, including mail, wire and tax fraud. At this point, it looks as if Grimm will fight the charges and run for re-election; with the filing deadline past, he’ll probably be the Republican nominee. Most handicappers, including those from Cook Political Report and Rothenberg Political Report, have moved the race to leaning Democratic.

Although I have no doubt that Grimm, 44, is now in a lot more danger of losing, he still has a chance of winning. The congressman, who is serving his second term, won his seat by 5.4 percentage points in 2012. But research by Nicholas Chad Long of St. Edward’s University (“The Impact of Incumbent Scandals on Senate Elections, 1974-2008”) found that incumbent senators accused of financial improprieties were hurt the least compared with those linked to other types of scandals, such as those involving abuse of power or sex. And prosecutors have said the crimes Grimm is charged with occurred before he ran for office.

Per Long’s findings, Grimm’s 5.4-point victory would, on average, turn into a 3.2-point defeat if we take the indictment into account. That is, there would be a little less than a 9-point penalty. So, Grimm is not a favorite, but he’s not necessarily a goner. An earlier study on House incumbents reveals slightly less of an effect.

But the calculation has a large margin of error — and there are other factors working in Grimm’s favor. Grimm’s opponent, Domenic Recchia Jr., is reliant on a Democratic base that includes a large percentage of Asians and Latinos. Just under 16 percent of New York’s 11th District — which includes Staten Island and a silver of Brooklyn — is Latino, and about 13 percent is Asian. Historically, Hispanics and Asian Americans have composed a lower percentage of the electorate in midterms than in presidential cycles. That might help Grimm on the margin.

We should probably wait on at least one poll to get a clearer lay of the land. The congressman may very well lose in a rout (especially if the scandal deepens), but history suggests that the race may be closer than one would think.

Harry Enten was a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.