Last Stand New York Gop Faces Pivotal Election

10.21.16 | Bob Price

New York hasn’t elected a Republican presidential candidate since 1984 and hasn’t picked a Republican for a statewide seat since 2002.

The party’s last bastion of power is the state Senate, and it holds a one-seat majority — only because a Democrat, Simcha Felder, of Brooklyn, sits with them.

So a state GOP that nurtured the careers of national figures William Seward, Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Dewey and Nelson Rockefeller heads into the Nov. 8 elections at a tenuous point in its 160-year history.

“This could be a pivotal election in the history of the New York state Republican Party,” said Larry Levy, executive dean of Hofstra University's Center for Suburban Studies.

“There are competitive races, particularly in swing suburban communities, that could relegate the GOP to minority status in every arm of state government.”

Indeed, at least a half-dozen key races in the Hudson Valley, Long Island and western New York will help determine whether Republicans can retain the Senate majority and maintain its standing in Albany.

In a presidential year with high turnout, Republicans go into the elections at a disadvantage based on simple math: New York has twice as many enrolled Democrats as Republicans.

The last two times Democrats won the Senate majority on paper were in presidential years: 2008 and 2012. The only reason Republicans retained control in 2012 is because of an alliance with a dissent group of Democrats.

That could make this year a make-or-break year for the state GOP.

“The way state registration is becoming increasingly more Democratic and with more minority voters, the chances for the party to rebound are shrinking,” Levy said.

But Republican leaders said they are confident their incumbents in the state Senate, as well as in the U.S. House of Representatives, will be re-elected and hope to add seats on Election Day.

Local politics

While New York has 5.3 million Democrats and 2.6 million Republicans, it also has 2.5 million independent voters not registered in a party.

“All politics is local, and every year, we focus on what we have to do locally, even with everything going on above us,” said Doug Colety, the GOP chairman in Westchester County.

Republicans are trying to drill home the point that if they lose the Senate, the entire state government would be run by Democrats, mainly from New York City.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is a Democrat, and the state Assembly has a huge majority that will not be threatened this year.

All 213 seats in the state legislature will be on the ballot, as well as all 27 congressional seats. Republicans hold nine of the congressional seats.

“It’s more about the future of the state and the people of this state than it is about the party,” said Sen. Cathy Young, R-Olean, Cattaraugus County, who heads the Senate GOP campaign committee.

“When we were not in the majority, we saw what happened — basically upstate was swallowed by New York City.”

Democrats hopeful

Democrats, meanwhile, are hoping a big turnout for Hillary Clinton will put the party back in the state Senate majority for the first time since 2010, viewing Republican candidate Donald Trump as a drag on the GOP ticket and saying Republicans in charge haven’t bettered the state.

A Siena College poll Wednesday showed Clinton beating Donald Trump in the New York City suburbs and upstate — the two regions where Republicans need big wins.

Statewide, Clinton was ahead of Trump 54 percent to 30 percent, the Siena Poll said.

“Democrats are poised to have a historic victory because voters want real leadership that will stand up for all New Yorkers and pass strong ethics reforms, lower taxes, and fairly fund our schools,” said Mike Murphy, a spokesman for Senate Democrats, in a statement.

The poll showed Clinton ahead of Trump 47 percent to 38 percent in the suburbs, and 43 percent to 37 percent upstate. She was up 73 percent to 17 percent in New York City.

“Clinton gets stronger support from Democrats than Trump gets from Republicans, and Clinton has now opened a 17-point lead with independents, up from just two points last month,” Siena poll spokesman Steven Greenberg said in a statement.

Republicans in New York maintain Trump will be an asset in some battleground districts, such as in Westchester and Dutchess counties, as well as the Southern Tier, where there are several key Senate races.

Trump overwhelmingly won the GOP primary in April in New York, and Republicans said voters often split their tickets between Democratic, Republican and third-party candidates.

“In areas where we have really competitive races, he is being helpful to us,” state GOP chairman Ed Cox said of Trump.

The Trump effect

Trump has regularly talked on the campaign trail about the troubles of upstate New York, knocking Clinton for her record as the state’s U.S. senator from 2001 through 2008.

His pledge to restore manufacturing jobs will resonate with upstate voters on down-ballot races, Republican leaders said.

“He has talked many times about the blight in upstate New York, nationally, and he’s talking about bringing back the jobs from overseas,” said Bill Reilich, the Monroe County GOP chairman.

Democrats have tried to pin Trump’s controversial comments about women onto their Republican foes, particularly after the demeaning comments made in a video from 11 years ago became public.

“Even as GOP leaders throughout the nation reject Trump’s disturbing and offensive campaign, the Senate Republicans have continued to stand firmly and passionately behind him,” Murphy said.

Young said that’s not the case, saying, “Immediately, we were very clear on the fact that those comments were offensive, intolerable and don’t represent our values. And what’s in our heart is to protect women.”

The money is flowing to the key Senate races, and Republicans have an edge.

Senate Republicans spent nearly $1.4 million from their campaign account in recent weeks and transferred $800,000 into candidates’ races. They had $2.6 million in their coffers.

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, had $1.1 million in the bank after spending $452,000 in recent weeks, campaign-finance records showed.