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New York Democrats look ahead to midterm elections following 2021 defeats as Republicans see hope of victory

In this Feb. 26, 2020 file photo, using both the English and Spanish language, a sign points potential voters to an official polling location during early voting in Dallas.
LM Otero
/
Associated Press

Democrats in New York have been absorbing the impact of some unexpected losses on Election night. They are debating what, if anything, they should do differently next year when several important races are up, including the contest for governor. Republicans, meanwhile, see new hope for winning statewide offices in 2022.

The Virginia governor’s race was expected to be close, and in the end, the Republican candidate won. But the contest for governor in neighboring New Jersey, where incumbent Phil Murphy barely eked out a win, was not expected to be a nail biter.

And here in New York, on Long Island, which had been steadily becoming bluer over the past decade, Republicans took the county executive and district attorneys seats in Nassau, and the DA post in Suffolk County. GOP candidates also won four New York City council seats.

“It was an incredible election,” said State Republican Party Chair Nick Langworthy.

Langworthy also led a successful campaign to defeat three ballot propositions on expanding voter access and changing the redistricting process.

Democratic lawmakers, who approved the ballot proposals, spent little money and took few actions to promote them.

Langworthy predicts that in 2022, the GOP will have its best chance of winning state offices since 1994, when a Republican sweep included the then little known George Pataki defeating Mario Cuomo for governor.

“There’s an awful lot of victories to point to here,” said Langworthy, who said the wins “set the table” for 2022.

Long Island Congressman Lee Zeldin is the candidate favored by Republican Party leaders. Others are also running, including former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, and Andrew Giuliani, son of Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City Mayor and lawyer for former President Donald Trump.

State Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs attributes his party’s setbacks to a national trend. He said it’s a reaction to President Joe Biden’s first year in office and similar, he said, to defeats of Democrats in 2009, after Barack Obama was elected President. Jacobs, speaking on public radio station WCNY’s “The Capitol Pressroom,” said Republicans were also more motivated than Democrats to come to the polls.

“We came off an election (in 2020), where Democrats were all charged up to beat Donald Trump. They succeeded,” Jacobs said. “So that motivator is gone.”

Jacobs said since then, gas prices have risen to over four dollars a gallon and there are worries about inflation and supply chain issues leading to shortages of goods on store shelves.

Jacobs said Democrats are discouraged over their leaders in Washington getting bogged down over disagreements on building infrastructure and expanding social programs. He said Republicans are still simmering over the results of 2020 elections, and were more likely to vote.

Long Island Congressman Tom Suozzi, a moderate Democrat, said the GOP was effective this election cycle at “weaponizing” divisive issues like a backlash to bail reform, as crime rates climbed. He believes that was a key factor in the Republican wins in his home region.

Suozzi, who is considering a run for governor, said the philosophy of the far left is a losing message that is “destroying” the Democratic Party, and that Democrats need to run on an agenda that appeals to the wide swath of voters who are in the middle.

“Focus on pocketbook and kitchen table issues and real life issues that affect people’s lives,” Suozzi said. “And not this ideological-based extremism.”

Suozzi was one of the few Democrats statewide who backed Buffalo incumbent and moderate Democrat mayor Byron Brown. Brown, in another sign that voters might prefer middle of the road to progressive policies, ran a successful write-in campaign to beat India Walton, a democratic socialist. Walton had defeated Brown in an upset win in the June democratic primary.

Governor Kathy Hochul, throughout her career in elected office, has been a moderate Democrat. But since taking office in August after the resignation of former Governor Andrew Cuomo, she has embraced many of the programs championed by progressives in her party, including a COVID-19 pandemic relief fund for undocumented immigrants and parole reforms.

Hochul, speaking at a virtual forum sponsored by City and State magazine and AARP, defended the criminal justice changes. She said she does not think policies like bail reform are related to the recent crime spike, which she attributes to economic and psychological hardships caused by the pandemic.

“Society was seen to be very fragile, and as a result there has been more crime in the streets” Hochul said. “What I’m doing to make sure we treat people fairly does not have a correlation between the two.”

Hochul, who is running for election to her job, will need to thread the needle between progressive and moderate voters to win the June primary.

She will face the stiffest competition from state Attorney General Letitia James, a popular progressive democrat. New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio, who are both considering runs, are also to the left of the mainstream of their party.

Whoever wins the Democratic primary will have to compete in a general election, where independent voters have increasing sway over the outcome.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.