ALBANY, New York — Democrat Tim Kennedy won a special election Tuesday to finish off the term started by fellow Democrat Brian Higgins in a Buffalo-area congressional seat.

The Associated Press called the race soon after Kennedy had a 75 percent to 25 percent lead over Republican West Seneca Supervisor Gary Dickson in early results.

His victory brings the number of Democrats in the House to 213. There are 217 Republicans and five vacancies.

The district has been safe for Democrats since Higgins narrowly won his first term in 2004. Kennedy will need to run for a full, two-year term in November.

Kennedy, a seven-term state senator, said in a recent interview that his front-running campaign is a good indicator of what happens when a Democrat with “a record of delivering results for the community” runs against a Republican “who is supporting a failed former president who’s not only indicted but is on trial.”

“This race is about the future of our country, and I believe every race at the congressional level across America this November is going to be the same,” he said in a recent interview. “This is a prelude to what we should expect to see in November.”

Kennedy’s path to victory was smooth. He was ready to launch a full-fledged campaign from the moment longtime ally Higgins announced his retirement in November, and other high-profile Democrats from Western New York declined to enter the race.

Republicans didn’t pick Dickson to be their nominee until February.

Kennedy, 47, an occupational therapist by trade, entered politics when he joined the Erie County Legislature in 2004. He has been a state senator since 2011, and his name has repeatedly surfaced over the years among the contenders for offices ranging from lieutenant governor to Buffalo mayor.

“As soon as you met him, you knew the guy had a plan and that he was going somewhere,” said Democrat Sean Ryan, who was a lawyer for the county legislature early in Kennedy’s career and now represents a neighboring Senate seat.

The incumbent that Kennedy ousted to win his first term in the Senate was one of the last Democrats in Albany opposed to same-sex marriage. His victory helped create momentum for the state’s vote on it the following year.

He has been squarely in the mainstream of Democratic politics since then, and he has been a particularly vocal supporter of blue collar labor unions. He has spent recent years chairing the Senate’s Transportation Committee, where he has focused on issues like securing infrastructure funding and reforming limousine safety regulations in the wake of a 2018 crash outside Albany.

Like Higgins, Kennedy hails from a heavily Irish pocket of South Buffalo where people identify where they live based on their Catholic parish. Few people who know him expect that his style in Washington will be drastically different than that of his predecessor.

“He’s going to let people from Congress know that someone from Buffalo is in the House,” Ryan said.

Former Grand Island supervisor Nate McMurray had filed to run against Kennedy in the June primary for a full term, but Democrats believe petition problems will soon get him tossed from the ballot. Republicans have submitted petitions under a placeholder name.

The state Legislature redrew New York’s congressional maps earlier this year, and the lines that will be used in November are slightly more favorable to Democrats than the lines won by Kennedy on Tuesday.

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