Capitol Watch: Democrats hope to keep New York blue in 2020

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Congressman Max Rose is one Democrat in a competitive race with Republicans in the 2020 election. (Photo by Todd Maisel)


In the year ahead, New Yorkers will elect state legislators and congressional representatives in contests that will set the stage for the redrawing of political maps, the 2022 gubernatorial race and the future of the state Republican Party.

Democrats are expected to hold the Assembly, but Republicans hope to win back Trump-friendly congressional districts. The GOP is also hoping to avoid further losses in the Senate, a chamber they lost control of in 2018 after more than a half century of domination.

But 2020 could cement the Republican Party’s losses in New Year for years to come if Democrats pick up seats left open by a wave of retiring GOP state senators and reelect several House Democrats who won in 2018 on promises to stand up to President Donald Trump, according to Grant Reeher, professor of political science at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship.

“It solidifies their majority, and puts in place this idea that New York is just blue, full stop,” said Reeher, also director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute. “And it seems like it’s going to be really tough for Republicans to make a real run at the governor’s seat, given what we’ve seen in recent elections.”

“It’s going to become the case where Republican strategy is going to have to be: We try to win seats here and there,” he said.

Siena College pollster Steve Greenberg said that Democrats’ growing voter enrollment advantage in suburban and upstate areas once considered Republican strongholds poses a “monumental problem” for the GOP in a presidential year.

“The Democrats are likely to have a huge monetary advantage in terms of being able to spend on the races,” Greenberg said.

Republicans are already attacking House Democrats who voted for Trump’s impeachment and plan to go after state-level Democrats for backing new bail reforms and proposals for single-payer health care.

Party leaders hoping to win back moderates said they’re confident such tactics will work as Democrats push one another to be more liberal, while Reeher said a more left-wing Democratic presidential nominee could drive Republicans to the polls.

“You’ve got these upstate districts where what’s going on in the middle is really important,” Reeher said. “A lot of these members who are holding these districts now were able to thread the needle or calibrate pretty carefully to appeal to that group.”

Republicans are down to 23 out of 63 seats in the State Senate, 43 out of 150 state Assembly seats and five out of 27 congressional seats. A look at some races that that observers see as potential pickups for Republicans or Democrats:

Congressional District 11

National Republican groups have set their sights on ousting Democratic Rep. Max Rose, whose district includes Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn.

The congressman was one of the last Democrats to announce support for Trump’s impeachment. Rose has defended his vote as being carefully thought out, but the White House slammed Rose’s vote and criticized him for joining the “hyper-partisan, baseless impeachment sham.”

Rose is facing several Republican challengers, including Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis.

State Senate District 50

Republican Sen. Bob Antonacci was elected in 2018 but decided to run for state judge this year. His win in November has left his sharply divided district without a representative.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has hinted he would hold a special election for Antonacci’s seat on the date of the April presidential primary — a day seen as favorable for Democrats.

Antonacci won in 2018 with just 2,332 votes more than Democratic challenger John Mannion, who has announced he will run for the seat. The upstate district had voted for Trump and President Barack Obama.

State Senate District 55

Sen. Richard Funke announced in mid-December that he was retiring, saying he wants to end his time in office “on my own terms.”

Democrats have higher voter enrollment in the western New York district compared with 2014, when Funke first won election.

Funke beat his Democratic challengers by roughly 4 percentage points in both 2012 and 2018.

His 2018 challenger Jennifer Lunsford, an attorney, announced her run for his seat in September.

State Senate District 46

Construction businessman George Amedore also announced he won’t run for reelection in December.

He won by solid margins in his last three elections. But Democrats amped up voter enrollment in a district that pollster Greenberg called historically competitive. A Democrat ousted Amedore in 2012 by just 18 votes. He then ran again and reclaimed the seat.

Democrat Michelle Hinchey, daughter of late U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey, launched her bid for Amedore’s seat in September.

Congressional District 22

Republicans also think they have a shot at ousting Democrat Rep. Anthony Brindisi, who ousted Republican Claudia Tenney in the upstate district by just 1,422 votes in 2018.

Trump campaigned for loyalist Tenney in the district, which he won by 15 percentage points in 2016.

Nearly two-fifths of the district’s active voters are Republican, while Democrats have shy of a third — an edge that Republicans have maintained in recent years.

Republicans who want to challenge Brindisi include Tenney, county District Attorney Steve Cornwell and educator Franklin Sager.

Congressional District 19

Rep. Antonio Delgado beat his incumbent Republican opponent by 15,000 votes in 2018 to become the first African American or Hispanic member of Congress from upstate New York.

As a congressman, Delgado focused on issues including contaminated water and help for family farmers. Professor Reeher said Delgado has positioned himself as a more moderate Democrat while also supporting impeachment.

His Republican opponents include former National Guard Adjutant General Anthony German, fashion designer Ola Hawatmeh and nonprofit director Mike Roth. But Delgado’s fundraising has far outstripped theirs so far.