Is blue wave enough to tip state Se­nate scales?

Democrats say cash, strong can­di­dates will help up­end the GOP’S ra­zor-thin mar­gin

Albany Times Union - Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - By David Lom­bardo

One seat.

That’s all it will take to win or lose con­trol of the state Se­nate.

With Gov. An­drew M. Cuomo the over­whelm­ing fa­vorite to win in Novem­ber and Democrats poised to hold their su­per­ma­jor­ity in the state Assem­bly, the big ques­tion on Elec­tion Day is who will emerge with con­trol of the 63-seat up­per house of the state Leg­is­la­ture, which Repub­li­cans con­trol by one vote.

Democrats in com­pet­i­tive leg­isla­tive races across the coun­try are an­tic­i­pat­ing they will ride a “blue wave” to vic­tory, and there is an ex­pec­ta­tion it will carry into New York.

“We have one seat to de­fend and about a dozen that we can flip, and we only need to flip one,” said Demo­cratic Se­nate Cam­paign Com­mit­tee Chair­man Mike Gia­naris. “We’re feel­ing pretty good.”

Se­nate Democrats say they have cam­paign cash to burn, vul­ner­a­ble tar­gets and open seats to pick up, a sta­ble of strong can­di­dates and en­thu­si­asm on their side. Se­nate Repub­li­cans are bank­ing on stal­wart in­cum­bents, anti-new York City sen­ti­ments, a tra­di­tion­ally mild midterm turnout and their record in of­fice.

Repub­li­cans know the na­tional trends aren’t in their fa­vor and ac­knowl­edge it

could hurt them “at the mar­gins,” but they note that Democrats have been over­con­fi­dent in the past.

“Two years ago, they were say­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton at the top of the ticket was go­ing to be the end of a Repub­li­can Se­nate,” Se­nate Repub­li­can spokesman Scott Reif said. “At the end of the day it comes down to the can­di­dates.”

Open seats

The land­scape in the state Se­nate shifted af­ter Democrats eas­ily won a com­pet­i­tive Se­nate spe­cial elec­tion in April and four Repub­li­can in­cum­bents, in­clud­ing Kathy Mar­chione, un­ex­pect­edly an­nounced their re­tire­ments.

A fifth seat also opened up in a nar­rowly di­vided Syra­cuse dis­trict that will be com­pet­i­tive for the first time in decades.

While Democrats en­joy an en­roll­ment edge in three of those five races, the Hud­son Val­ley race is a pri­or­ity and they’re run­ning their dream can­di­date in As­sem­bly­man Jim Sk­oufis. He rep­re­sents 40 per­cent of the dis­trict in the Assem­bly, out­per­formed Hil­lary Clin­ton two years ago and out-raised his op­po­nent this year.

Democrats con­tend that can­di­dates of Sk­oufis’ cal­iber only run if they think they can win.

Demo­cratic tar­gets

Af­ter los­ing by a mar­gin of roughly one per­cent two years ago, Democrats are hop­ing a re­match against Repub­li­can Carl Mar­cellino on Long Is­land will go their way.

Re­cent re­sults from the nar­rowly di­vided dis­trict are trend­ing in the wrong di­rec­tion for Repub­li­cans. Clin­ton won the dis­trict in 2016, af­ter Obama lost it in 2012, and Democrats picked up an Assem­bly seat in that area dur­ing an April spe­cial elec­tion.

The largest Demo­cratic en­roll­ment ad­van­tage on the is­land is in a Nas­sau County dis­trict rep­re­sented by Repub­li­can Elaine Phillips. The seat was hotly con­tested in 2016, with spe­cial in­ter­ests spend­ing more than $3 mil­lion, and Democrats could ride a blue wave to vic­tory if turnout con­tin­ues in their fa­vor.

Gone are the days of the guar­an­teed “Long Is­land Nine,” but Reif said their seven in­cum­bents have good records on the is­sues vot­ers care about in Nas­sau and Suf­folk coun­ties — prop­erty taxes, ed­u­ca­tion and the en­vi­ron­ment.

Is­sues, ar­gu­ments

In de­fend­ing their sus­cep­ti­ble seats, Repub­li­cans are try­ing to run on a plat­form against a New York City takeover of the state Leg­is­la­ture. They’re pre­sent­ing their can­di­dates as the de­fend­ers of lo­cal in­ter­ests.

“We’ve seen that that’s a win­ning ar­gu­ment,” Reif said.

In the Hud­son Val­ley and on Long Is­land, Se­nate Democrats are high­light­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, re­pro­duc­tive rights, gun safety and the en­vi­ron­ment. They’re also talk­ing taxes, which tra­di­tion­ally has been a Repub­li­can talk­ing point, but has the po­ten­tial to ben­e­fit Democrats due to the un­pop­u­lar­ity of the fed­eral tax re­form adopted last year.

In a long-shot chal­lenge to a Brook­lyn Repub­li­can, the fail­ure of the state Se­nate to re­new speed cam­eras is a re­cur­ring is­sue.

Repub­li­can counter

The Repub­li­cans’ No. 1 tar­get is Long Is­land Demo­crat John Brooks,

who they de­ri­sively re­fer to as the “ac­ci­den­tal se­na­tor.”

His cam­paign was an un­der­funded af­ter­thought in 2016, un­til his op­po­nent’s fa­ther and the lo­cal Repub­li­can county ex­ec­u­tive were in­dicted on cor­rup­tion charges. A race Repub­li­cans planned on win­ning by 30 points with­out much ef­fort be­came a 314-vote win for the Democrats.

Democrats be­lieve on­go­ing cor­rup­tion in that area, Brooks’ vot­ing record, and a ma­jor fi­nan­cial in­vest­ment will be enough to ward off a re­turn to Repub­li­can con­trol.

Op­por­tu­ni­ties for ad­di­tional Repub­li­can pick­ups in Novem­ber are slim.

The Long Is­land seat once held by Repub­li­can Dean Ske­los is con­sid­ered safely in Demo­cratic hands, and Repub­li­cans aren’t field­ing a can­di­date in the Westch­ester County seat that was hotly con­tested in the April spe­cial elec­tion.

Their hopes for an ad­di­tional pickup largely hang on a po­ten­tial three­way race in Syra­cuse, a Rock­land County up­set or an Oc­to­ber sur­prise that hasn’t emerged yet.

Cap­i­tal Re­gion con­tests

Three of the four races in the Cap­i­tal Re­gion are es­sen­tially af­ter­thoughts for Democrats and Repub­li­cans be­cause of the un­even en­roll­ment in the dis­tricts. Demo­cratic in­cum­bent Neil Bres­lin and Repub­li­can in­cum­bent Jim Tedisco are ex­pected to cruise to re-elec­tion, although Repub­li­can Daphne Jor­dan, in a dis­trict that fa­vors her party, is fac­ing a spir­ited chal­lenge from Demo­crat Aaron Gladd, a mil­i­tary vet­eran.

Repub­li­can in­cum­bent Ge­orge Ame­dore’s dis­trict has a nar­row Demo­cratic edge and Democrats won the seat by 19 votes in

2012. The elec­tion could be in­flu­enced by a race on the top of the ticket, as a ma­jor­ity of the dis­trict over­laps with the con­test be­tween U.S. Rep. John Faso, R-kinder­hook, and Demo­crat An­to­nio Del­gado.

A match in money

For the first time since they briefly held the ma­jor­ity a decade ago, Se­nate Democrats will likely be able to spend on par with Repub­li­cans this cam­paign sea­son, af­ter out-rais­ing them through the year and field­ing can­di­dates with stronger-than-usual fundrais­ing. The new dy­namic could also be an in­di­ca­tor of which way the donor class in New York be­lieves the po­lit­i­cal winds are

shift­ing, as con­tri­bu­tions gen­er­ally flow to ex­pected ma­jor­ity mem­bers.

Un­known is how much spe­cial in­ter­ests will try to tip the scales in com­pet­i­tive races with their own in­de­pen­dent ex­pen­di­tures. The state’s teach­ers union and other la­bor in­ter­ests, the real es­tate in­dus­try, char­ter school back­ers and busi­ness in­ter­ests will likely spend more than $20 mil­lion this sea­son.

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