Will en­ergy trans­late to votes?

Lots of ev­i­dence of en­thu­si­asm on eve of elec­tions, but where it goes re­mains to be seen

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

Demo­cratic vot­ers in the Cap­i­tal Re­gion are hop­ing to flip the tra­di­tional midterm elec­tion script on Tues­day.

While Repub­li­can-lean­ing vot­ers tra­di­tion­ally see their share of the elec­torate in­crease when the pres­i­den­tial race isn’t on the bal­lot, the writ­ing on the wall in­di­cates Demo­cratic can­di­dates lo­cally and across the state will ben­e­fit from un­usu­ally high lev­els of en­thu­si­asm from their sup­port­ers.

New voter en­roll­ment data, re­quests for ab­sen­tee bal­lots, cam­paign fundrais­ing, grass­roots move­ments and polling sig­nal an en­gaged Demo­cratic elec­torate.

“(Pres­i­dent Don­ald) Trump did us a fa­vor. He en­er­gized peo­ple,” said Phil Markham, a Work­ing Fam­i­lies Party ac­tivist from West Sand Lake.

The 2016 pres­i­den­tial race was a trans­for­ma­tive ex­pe­ri­ence for Dianne Hob­den, a Demo­crat from Canaan, who spent the night cry­ing on the phone with a friend after the re­sults came in. After the shock of Trump’s vic­tory wore off, she de­cided to vol­un­teer in lo­cal elec­tions for the first time.

“I wanted to do some­thing to change things,” she said.

It was a sim­i­lar po­lit­i­cal

awak­en­ing for Jen­nifer Porter, a Demo­crat from Stephen­town, who joined a lo­cal chap­ter of the “In­di­vis­i­ble” group, a na­tional left-lean­ing ac­tivist net­work that emerged in 2017.

De­spite vot­ing reg­u­larly, she is help­ing rally other vot­ers for the first time, which she re­grets not do­ing dur­ing Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Amy Stan­daert, a Repub­li­can from Clifton Park, said she rec­og­nized sim­i­lar­i­ties with the en­thu­si­asm on the left to the cre­ation of the tea party on the right, which ex­ploded onto the po­lit­i­cal land­scape in re­sponse to Obama’s 2008 elec­tion. She said a driv­ing fac­tor in both cases was “fear” of the new pres­i­dents and their poli­cies, and blamed po­lit­i­cal rhetoric for ex­ac­er­bat­ing peo­ple’s con­cerns.

“Un­for­tu­nately, fear gets peo­ple out to vote,” she said.

But Stan­daert doesn’t think elec­tion turnout will be an un­even on Tues­day. “I think both sides are mo­ti­vated and en­er­gized to come out,” she said.

In the 19th Con­gres­sional District, al­most three­quar­ters of likely vot­ers have “a lot” of in­ter­est in the race, ac­cord­ing to a Mon­mouth Univer­sity poll. At least 81 per­cent of Demo­cratic vot­ers have had a high level of in­ter­est since Septem­ber, while the amount of in­ter­ested Repub­li­cans has in­creased from 63 per­cent to 79 per­cent dur­ing this time.

The most apa­thy about the race is from un­de­cided vot­ers.

En­thu­si­asm gap

Based on the voter turnout for spe­cial elec­tions since 2016 and the lo­cal elec­tions in 2017, there has been grow­ing an­tic­i­pa­tion of a surge of Demo­cratic vot­ers for the general elec­tions. The like­li­hood of a na­tional “Blue Wave” is gen­er­ally con­sid­ered a fore­gone con­clu­sion, and there are in­di­ca­tions that it is go­ing to pack a punch when it hits lo­cally.

Demo­cratic turnout in the Cap­i­tal Re­gion for the state’s pri­maries in Septem­ber was up 64 per­cent from four years ago. In April’s spe­cial elec­tions, Demo­cratic can­di­dates for Cap­i­tal Re­gion As­sem­bly seats dras­ti­cally out­per­formed pre­vi­ous at­tempts to win those races.

Democrats have a 20-point edge in en­thu­si­asm over Repub­li­cans from parts of Al­bany and Sch­enec­tady coun­ties, ac­cord­ing to pri­vate polling from this sum­mer.

By com­par­i­son, the level of in­ter­est be­tween the two par­ties was prac­ti­cally even in polling two years ear­lier, and Repub­li­cans had a 10-point ad­van­tage in 2014.

Based on Hob­den’s in­ter­ac­tions with Democrats on the cam­paign trail, she said, “I’ve never seen such en­thu­si­asm.”

In Columbia County, the dif­fer­ence in ex­cite­ment is ev­i­dent in the ab­sen­tee bal­lot re­quests, with the num­ber of bal­lots is­sued to Democrats grow­ing by 172 per­cent since 2014, and 42 per­cent above the mark in 2016, a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion year, which typ­i­cally sees much higher voter turnout than midterm elec­tions.

By com­par­i­son, the num­ber of bal­lots is­sued to Repub­li­cans is 17 per­cent higher than 2014, and 20 per­cent less than 2016.

Columbia County Demo­cratic Com­mit­tee Chair Keith Kanaga at­trib­uted the Demo­cratic edge to in­creased voter en­roll­ment, as well as peo­ple be­ing “very geared up” for the elec­tions.

Democrats made up a plu­ral­ity of the new vot­ers in Al­bany, Rens­se­laer, Saratoga and Sch­enec­tady coun­ties since Novem­ber 2016.

Ad­di­tion­ally, the num­ber of ac­tive Demo­cratic vot­ers in this re­gion in­creased by 1.2 per­cent since April, and the GOP num­ber de­creased by 0.1 per­cent.


Aside from Trump, health care has been the mo­ti­vat­ing is­sue for Democrats across the coun­try, and the Cap­i­tal Re­gion is no dif­fer­ent. In the 19th Con­gres­sional District, 56 per­cent of Democrats iden­ti­fied it as their top pri­or­ity, and this is be­ing played out in the re­cur­ring cam­paign ad at­tacks on GOP in­cum­bent John Faso for his vote to re­place Oba­macare.

On the other side of the aisle, though, only 15 per­cent of Repub­li­cans feel health care is a top pri­or­ity, ac­cord­ing to a Mon­mouth Univer­sity poll.

Stan­daert, the Clifton Park Repub­li­can, said Repub­li­cans are talk­ing about health care, but not to the same de­gree as 2010, when the is­sue cap­ti­vated her at­ten­tion. When knock­ing on doors this cam­paign sea­son, she said the econ­omy is the top is­sue she hears about.

A plu­ral­ity of Repub­li­can vot­ers in the 19th Con­gres­sional District, 34 per­cent, iden­ti­fied im­mi­gra­tion as their big­gest con­cern.

“I think im­mi­gra­tion is a huge deal,” Stan­daert said. “That’s why Trump won.”

Unique to the con­ver­sa­tion sur­round­ing Faso’s re-elec­tion bid are the rap lyrics of Demo­cratic chal­lenger An­to­nio Del­gado, which have been the fo­cal point of po­lar­iz­ing tele­vi­sion ad­ver­tise­ments that have run in­ces­santly for months. De­spite the aim of the ad­ver­tise­ments, to make Del­gado seem out of touch with the district, more vot­ers feel like he shares their val­ues than Faso, ac­cord­ing to the Mon­mouth poll.

Mon­mouth poll di­rec­tor Pa­trick Mur­ray said the “at­tacks haven’t changed the over­all tra­jec­tory of the race.”

The po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue in the Cap­i­tal Re­gion shifts to cor­rup­tion and state taxes when vot­ers con­tem­plate state races, ac­cord­ing to pri­vate polling from Repub­li­cans and Democrats. Cre­at­ing jobs, state aid for ed­u­ca­tion, and prop­erty taxes are also re­cur­ring pri­or­i­ties in these polls.

And de­spite Gov. An­drew Cuomo be­ing on the top of the ticket for Democrats, Hob­den said the two-term in­cum­bent — fac­ing Repub­li­can chal­lenger Marc Moli­naro and three third-party can­di­dates — doesn’t come up when talk­ing to lo­cal vot­ers.

Be­cause of the gover­nor’s lesser pop­u­lar­ity in the re­gion com­pared to down­state, though, he is a re­cur­ring fig­ure in lo­cal print, tele­vi­sion and so­cial me­dia ad­ver­tise­ments from Repub­li­can can­di­dates hop­ing to link him to their Demo­cratic op­po­nents.

Ul­ti­mately, the pres­i­den­tial re­sults from 2016 will be the dom­i­nat­ing fac­tor on Tues­day, as the party out of the White House gets a bump dur­ing that first mid-term elec­tion.

“This is a ref­er­en­dum on the pres­i­dent,” Stan­daert said.

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