ALBANY Did Republicans in New York have a good Election Day? Or was it just a bad day for progressives?
Those may seem like one in the same, but, at the risk of splitting hairs, I'll insist there's a difference. Many of the results Tuesday that seemed to signify a rightward shift in the electorate didn't exactly come with a Republican label.
Buffalo's democratic socialist mayoral candidate was clobbered, but she lost to an incumbent Democrat mounting a write-in campaign. Progressive constitutional amendments that would have made it easier to vote or gerrymander congressional districts lost statewide to the delight of Republicans, but it seems a stretch to call the defeats a GOP victory.
Which isn't to say there weren't significant Republican bright spots. Locally, Peter Crummey cruised to victory in Colonie, painting the town red after a 14-year hiatus from the supervisor's office, and Steve McLaughlin, who is apparently no longer controversial, easily won reelection as the Rensselaer County executive.
Yes, there were counterexamples, including Democrat Ron Kim's apparent win in the Saratoga Springs mayor's race in a city consumed by police-versus-activist turmoil.
But farther afield, Republicans also made in-roads on the New York City Council and won two district attorney seats on Long Island, evidence that suburban voters, in particular, are returning to the GOP fold. The swing combined with a Glenn Youngkin win in Virginia and a close gubernatorial contest in New Jersey was fodder for Republican glee.
"It was pretty resounding around the state," said Nick Langworthy, chairman of the New York Republican Party. "This sets the tone for things to come."
Things to come is, of course, a reference to 2022 and its biggest prize: The governorship. The results on Tuesday might just suggest that Republicans have a better chance in the race to unseat Kathy Hochul than many would have assumed.
Or they might not.
"That Election Day is almost 53 weeks away," countered Steve Greenberg, a Clifton Park-based political consultant who poo-pooed the notion of Tuesday's lasting relevance. "The world is going to change 12 times between now and then."
Thanks for killing a perfectly good narrative, Steve. Oh, but I suppose he's right that shifts in the economy and other unforeseen events (such as, say, the arrival of a pandemic) have a way of making predictions look stupid, and, yes, it's a bit foolhardy to draw direct lines from one election to another.
But I'm going to do it anyway! Or I'm at least going to assert that while Tuesday's results may not demonstrate a GOP comeback, they do prove New York is not the progressive haven national pundits and our own politicians claim it to be.
(Example: "New York is the progressive capital of the nation," said Andrew Cuomo earlier this year, before he ... well, you know what happened.)
If this were really the progressive capital of the nation, a ballot initiative offering no-excuse absentee voting a perk enjoyed in Montana, Kansas, Alaska and many other red states would not have suffered an easy defeat on Tuesday. If this were the progressive capital, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez's trip to Buffalo would have helped India Walton, the democratic socialist mayoral candidate.
If New York was so darn progressive, a former cop named Eric Adams would not be enjoying a victory lap in the state's biggest city after rebuking defund-the-police rhetoric.
All of which means that if Hochul and her Democratic primary challengers, including Attorney General Letitia James, spend the next eight months playing Who's the Most Woke, the Republican gubernatorial candidate will have a chance in next year's race. Not a great chance, or even a good chance, but a chance nevertheless.
A suggestion: Democrats might want to pay more than lip service to the problem of rising crime, which is a real worry and likely contributed to Tuesday's results, even in places like Colonie. That doesn't mean Democrats should return to the "predators on our streets" rhetoric of old, but they do need to address the spike.
If they don't, well, voters may deliver a George Pataki-style surprise, which shouldn't seem so far-fetched. Consider that in Massachusetts, a state arguably a deeper shade of blue than New York, Republicans have regularly won the governor's office by promising to act as a check on the lefties in the state Legislature. Why couldn't the same strategy work here?
Heck, even Vermont has a Republican governor. Vermont! If Republicans can make it there, they can make it anywhere.
firstname.lastname@example.org 518-454-5442 @chris_churchill
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