New York Loses Luster as Democratic Bastion After GOP House Gains

Republican candidate for New York’s 22nd Congressional District Brandon Williams speaks during and election night party, Tuesday Nov. 8, 2022, in Syracuse, N.Y. (Scott Schild/The Post-Standard via AP)

(Bloomberg News/TNS) — The final race call in New York’s congressional delegation went for Syracuse Republican Brandon Williams this week, marking the 11th seat to be taken by the GOP in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1.

It capped a remarkable sweep for New York Republicans, pushing them close to half of the state’s 26-member House delegation. The party’s previous tally was eight lawmakers for 27 seats, before the once-in-a-decade reapportionment based on the 2020 Census and a messy redistricting.

With Republicans on Wednesday taking control of the House of Representatives by the narrowest of margins, New York’s 11 GOP seats played a large a role in the switch.

The Republican surge in New York came even as the party failed to meet expectations of a red wave in other key state and national contests, painting a much more nuanced picture of the state of the American electorate. In states like Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania, abortion and election-denying Republican candidates helped to give Democrats a boost.

“We lost four competitive congressional seats that we very much would have liked to have won,” said New York State Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs. “That wouldn’t be so unusual except for what happened in the rest of the country, so it looks like we underperformed.”

A strong showing by the Republican gubernatorial candidate at the top of the ticket, a relentless focus on crime, economic losses in New York that have outpaced the U.S. and a more competitive congressional map all played a role in helping to boost congressional candidates in a state that President Joe Biden carried by 23 points in 2020.

Another factor: Issues that energized Democrats in other states didn’t work as well in New York.

The most symbolic loss was that of U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who led the Democratic Party’s efforts to retain control of Congress. Maloney conceded the race to represent parts of New York’s Hudson Valley to Mike Lawler, a Republican state assemblyman who zeroed in on fears over crime and the economy during his campaign. The race came down to a few thousand votes.

Maloney’s district was one of six in New York that Biden won in 2020 but that Democrats have now lost.

While Democrat Kathy Hochul won the governor’s race, the strong showing by the GOP candidate, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin of Long Island, likely helped bring Republicans out to the polls to vote.

Hochul won with about 53% of the vote, compared with Zeldin’s 47%. That contrasts with former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who got nearly 60% of the vote in 2018 and 54% in 2014, according to AP.

Although Zeldin is not pro-choice and is pro-Trump in a state that was largely against the former president and the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v Wade, he campaigned early and actively.

Internal Democratic polling showed the party was unable to get the “MAGA extremist” label to stick to Zeldin, Jacobs said, referring to Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.” While 38% of voters thought Zeldin was too extreme, 43% called him a moderate.

And Zeldin’s focus on crime and pocketbook issues set the tone for Republican candidates down the ballot, with one issue galvanizing the message: a criminal justice bill sponsored by New York Democrats that largely eliminated cash bail for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies. Jacobs said criticism of that law was unfair but effective.

Hochul won in only nine of the state’s 57 counties outside of New York City, according to unofficial results. She was helped by strong turnout in the city, where she spent the bulk of her advertising dollars to woo more than 3.1 million of the state’s 6 million active Democratic voters.

The post-mortem finger-pointing by the Democrats started before many of the races had even been called, with blame cast against party leaders past and present. Some assailed Jacobs, the state Democratic chair, in a letter signed by hundreds of Democrats calling for his ouster. “The governor wants me to stay on,” he said Tuesday.

Others fingered Cuomo for appointing the conservative judges who struck down a Democratic-drawn congressional map.

“This is a great opportunity for us to rebuild,” Hochul told reporters on Monday. “I’ve been governor for just over a year now, but now it’s a chance for us to step back and make sure the Democratic Party is the powerhouse that it should be.”

A popularly cited culprit for the losses was the failed attempt at a Democratic power grab during the redistricting process earlier this year. Those maps backfired when they were ruled unconstitutional, causing the courts to appoint a special master to redraw the maps. On Tuesday, the state’s redistricting chair resigned.

The economic malaise prompted by the pandemic has also hit New York particularly hard compared with the rest of the U.S.

The state led the U.S. in population decline, with a 1.8% decrease between April 2020 and July 2021, according to the US Census Bureau. During that time Texas and Florida each saw a more than 1% increase. The out-migration in New York, which has been concentrated upstate, led to the loss of the congressional seat and has also been cited as one contributing factor to lower college enrollment and labor shortages.

New York’s economy continues to lag behind the rest of the country: While overall economic activity in the US increased by 5.7% in 2021, it rose by 5% in New York, which hasn’t yet reached pre-pandemic levels, according to the state comptroller’s 2022 financial report. New York has regained less than three quarters of the jobs lost during the pandemic, compared with 85% of jobs nationally.

People who received public assistance from New York during fiscal year 2021 increased for the first time in five years, while the number of food stamp recipients rose for the first time in seven years, according to the state comptroller.

Meanwhile, the comptroller said the state’s total number of crimes across seven major categories increased in 2021 for the first time in eight years, led by car thefts, murders, burglaries and assaults. While crime still remains at decades-long lows, the increase during the pandemic has had an outsized impact on the perception of public safety.

“Throughout New York state, the issue of crime is so important,” said Representative-elect Anthony D’Esposito, a former New York City police detective who won as a Republican in a Long Island district that Biden won by nearly 15 points in 2020. “The governor turned her head and and said there’s no issues, when police, when prosecutors and when the public all have said time and time again that cashless bail is a problem.

“People in New York are fed up,” he said.

But seats like D’Esposito’s could be difficult for Republicans to keep, especially in a presidential election year, said Evan Stavisky, a New York-based Democratic strategist.

Stavisky said a weak Democratic ground game failed to mobilize voters of color and that Orthodox Jews — motivated by a recently passed state regulation on private school curriculum — turned out in big numbers for Republicans.

“Here’s the thing: In two years it’s going to be a presidential year,” he said. “If they think the Democrats aren’t coming for them, they’re kidding themselves. Maybe all they’ve accomplished is getting the first paragraph of their obituary changed to say they served one term in the House of Representatives.”

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