Around the U.S. in 50 Days: New York

During the 2010 midterm elections, I stated that the GOP wave would probably be thwarted in New York state based on voting trends. I admit failure as some Republicans won surprise elections and went on to Congress. However, I stated then and I reiterate now that the New York GOP is in a state of disarray. Combined with a clear cut strategy that targets incumbent Republicans with either viable opponents or through redistricting, the Democrats in New York are positioned to take back some seats in New York. And I believe the GOP will suffer some losses in 2012. The only good news out of New York for the Republican Party after 2012 is that there will be nowhere to go but up. Making any predictions more complicated is the fact that at this stage, redistricting has not been completed, will likely face court challenges when it is, and they lose two seats in the House. Regarding the House races, a lot is up in the air until redistricting is completed sometime in late spring when a clearer picture will emerge. If they had lost one seat, the problem for the Democrats would had been easier to solve- eliminate a seat in upstate New York. But since they lose two seats, it appears that not only that upstate seat will be lost, but also one in the New York City area will be eliminated through the consolidation of two neighboring districts.

As far as the presidential race goes, Obama won the state in 2008 with 63% of the vote. With approval ratings in the mid-50s- well above the national average- he is well positioned to win this state by landslide margins yet again in 2012. Also, the very few counties that McCain won big (at least 57% of the vote) in 2012, all lost population. Meanwhile, the landslide counties for Obama (greater than 60% of the vote) all saw either minimal population losses or moderate population gains. This all adds up to another Obama victory and, other than fund raising ventures, the GOP candidate can write off stops in the Empire State because their 29 electoral votes will go to Obama.

For Senate, Democratic incumbent Kirsten Gillibrand, first appointed to the seat held by Hillary Clinton by David Paterson, will run for reelection. Having accumulated a whopping $21 million campaign war chest in an expensive media market, any GOP candidate has a lot of ground to make up just to make this case look vaguely competitive. Thus far, only Nassau County comptroller George Maragos has announced his candidacy. However, he is only locally known- a Long Island politician with little statewide appeal. One has to admire his attempt and his willingness to tread where no other Republican has yet. But, that is symptomatic of the disarray of the New York GOP. The fact is, as 2010 proved, no ideologically conservative Republican is going to win this state. In order to have a chance, a moderate, centrist Republican- a “RINO” to some- will have to run. George Pataki would probably fit this bill, but he has shown absolutely no inclinations to take on Gillibrand. Congressman Peter King has been mentioned, but he is exactly the type of candidate that would make a debate interesting and provide a stark contrast to Gillibrand, but ultimately be rejected by the voters of New York. It is one thing to win your more-conservative-than-your surroundings congressional district and another to convert that local success into a statewide victory in a blue state.

Other names suggested are Maggie Brooks. A Monroe County Executive, she has certainly shown innovation in program reform at the county level, but again she is a more locally known candidate who, in an expensive market, would have difficulty breaking through statewide. Harry Wilson lost a close statewide election for comptroller in 2010. Some believe that close loss gave Wilson some statewide name recognition and the close loss is indicative of a “rising star” status. However, New York, at this point in time, is a state not especially in tune with the “kick the incumbents out” mood prevalent in other areas of the country. Wilson can run as an outsider, but running against a well-funded incumbent may not be in his best interests at this time. Another name that could fit the mold, had she the backing of the Republican GOP and some money is former Lt. Governor Betsy McCaughey. I can hear the cat calls now. She was chosen as Pataki’s running mate because of her work in conservative think tanks like the Hudson Institute and she believed that she would be the Governor’s point person on health care issues. But, she eventually “went rogue” when she gave a pro-choice speech without administration approval. Eventually, McCaughey switched political parties, but allegedly remains a Republican at heart. The problem is whether the GOP would welcome her back at this point. She would probably make a Senate race interesting and give Gillibrand a run for the money. The fact remains that for the GOP to win a statewide race in New York, they need a centrist, even pro-choice candidate to even stand a chance. That is the reality of politics in New York.

In the House races, it needs mentioning that all this can change after the actual redistricting maps are approved. We do know that two seats will be eliminated, most likely an upstate one and one in the NYC area. Currently, Democrats hold 21 of 29 seats with at least 14 of them very safe right off the bat. That includes the seats of Maurice Hinchey in the 22nd who has announced his retirement and that of the ethically-challenged Charlie Rangel in the 15th District. In the current 10th District incumbent Edolphus Towns faces a serious primary challenge from Hakeem Jeffries keeping the district safely Democratic regardless. In the new probably 4th District, incumbent Carolyn McCarthy may face some competition from GOP challenger Frank Scaturro, but should prevail nevertheless.

In the new probable 1st District, expect a rematch and good battle between incumbent Democrat Tim Bishop and GOP candidate Randy Altschuler. Altschuler has demonstrated good fund raising abilities in this Long Island-based district. In the 18th District, Nick Lowey may face a decent fight from Republican Mark Rosen, but expect a Lowey victory here also. Finally, if Republicans are going to win any seat, it will be in the new 27th District, currently represented by Democrat Kathleen Hochul. Republican Jack Davis is well connected and even more well funded here.

Among the Republican seats, Peter King is safe in the 3rd District, especially if redistricting draws in more of Long Island’s more conservative southern shore. In the 13th, Michael Grimm faces token Democratic opposition. I think we can safely predict election day victories for Republicans Chris Gibson and Richard Hanna. The troubled incumbents are, first, Bob Turner who won a special election to replace Anthony Weiner. However, redistricting will likely change this district dramatically and combine it with more minority areas making Turner’s job in 2012 much more difficult. In 2011, he won with overwhelming support of the Jewish community running on a pro-Israel platform. However, that Jewish vote will likely be diluted and jobs, not Israel, will be the dominant theme this time around. Richard Becker for the Democrats will likely challenge Nan Hayworth in the 19th District. Finally, in the 25th, Republican Ann Marie Buerkle will likely face Dan Maffei on the Democratic side. I think it is safe to say that Turner and one of these incumbents- Hayworth or Buerkle- will lose this cycle. Add the one assumed seat lost to redistricting and the GOP can expect a three seat loss. However, there will be Democratic seat loss due to redistricting, so we can drop the net total loss to two seats. If a strong GOP candidate takes on Hochul and wins, then the net loss would be one seat. But, at this stage, lets just go with the worst case scenario which is a two-seat loss and anything less than that could be considered a victory for the GOP in New York.

Running total thus far:
Obama with 174 electoral votes to 219 for GOP candidate;
Net gain of 2 Governors;
Net gain of 4 Senate seats;
Net loss of 7 House seats.

Next: Vermont and New Hampshire