If Democrats Lose the House, They May Have New York to Blame

As Democrats sought to maintain their narrow House majority in this year’s midterms, they counted on New York to be a crucial bulwark. Instead, as the party mostly outperformed dire predictions across the country Tuesday night, one of the nation’s most liberal states morphed into perhaps the most powerful drag on its chances.

Channeling angst over persistent crime and inflation, Republicans ran a nearly clean sweep through the slate of New York’s congressional tossup races. While their party struggled in swing states like Virginia and Michigan, Republican candidates made inroads deep into the suburbs of Long Island and the Hudson Valley, and even pockets of Brooklyn and Queens, where President Biden had won handily.

When they were done, Republicans had flipped four Democratic House seats, more than any other state, and had won a staggering prize: the defeat of Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, the House Democratic campaign chairman charged with protecting his party’s hold on Congress.

The Republican surge in New York, which also rattled Democrats’ hold on state races, did not result in an upset in the contest for governor. But Gov. Kathy Hochul’s five-point victory over Representative Lee Zeldin, a Trump-backed Republican, seemed paradoxically to have a coattail effect for Republicans, who won in areas where Mr. Zeldin performed well.

“It was a terrible night in New York,” said Howard Wolfson, a leading national Democratic strategist, summing up his party’s disappointment. “It’s infuriating that a night as good as it was for Democrats overall is undone by arrogance and incompetence here.”

Republicans, on the other hand, were delighted. They argued that their resurgence not only laid the groundwork for a new Republican majority in Congress but also showed a pathway to wrest back old strongholds in Nassau County and working-class New York City boroughs outside Manhattan for years to come — if still not a path to win statewide.

“House Republicans would not have a majority if it were not for the State of New York,” said Representative Elise Stefanik, the top-ranking New York Republican in Washington, who predicted that the party would also fend off what was considered to be a prime Democratic pickup opportunity in Syracuse. “How about that irony?”

Though the race for control of the House was still too close to call nationally, Ms. Stefanik’s party needed to net just five seats nationwide to win the House, a number that appeared to be within reach.

In New York, Republicans were set to net three seats, after losing one to reapportionment. The only other state where they have flipped more than one so far is Florida, though Arizona may also follow suit.

The denouement, particularly on the House map, had not been entirely unforeseen after New York’s once-in-a-decade redistricting process went haywire. Democrats in Albany began the year hopeful that they could draw new lines that would protect their incumbents and cost Republicans as many as four seats in the state to offset Republican gains elsewhere.

But New York’s highest court, in response to a Republican lawsuit, threw out the maps as an unconstitutional gerrymander and put more competitive alternatives in their place. In a handful of other states, courts ruled that Republicans had gerrymandered maps but did not enforce those rulings, but in New York, the judges insisted the lines be redrawn this year — instantly transforming the state into a critical, if unlikely, House battlefield.

And yet, even accounting for the shifting playing field, many Democratic House candidates in New York appear to have underperformed compared with their counterparts in other states.

For bleary-eyed local Democratic power brokers, the outcome poured fuel onto old feuds and long-running disagreements between left-leaning and more moderate wings of the party.

On the left, where prominent progressives associated with the Working Families Party set aside disagreements to help push Ms. Hochul over the finish line, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez led calls for the resignation of the state party chairman, Jay Jacobs, who also leads the Nassau County Democratic Party.

“It’s no secret that an enormous amount of party leadership in New York State is based on big money and old-school, calcified machine-style politics that creates a very anemic voting base that is disengaged and disenfranchised,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said in an interview, adding that she was “cleareyed” about a need to rebuild the party apparatus from the bottom up.

Though many progressives did not name Ms. Hochul, they lamented that numerous candidates had failed to stake out a bolder agenda that would inspire the state’s 6.5 million Democrats and to invest in more durable on-the-ground organizing, rather than trying to motivate voters out of fear of Mr. Zeldin.

“If you stand for something and fight for it and voters believe you’re not just trying to be a lighter version of your Republican opponent, they come out and they vote,” said Michael Gianaris, the deputy majority leader in the State Senate.

There was unquestionably a potent mix of issues at play: Polls suggested voters living on the outskirts of New York City, and in urban Orthodox Jewish and Asian enclaves, were unusually motivated by rising crime. Record outside spending swamped the airwaves, and Republicans turned out in droves. Ms. Hochul failed to generate significant enthusiasm at the top of the ticket, and her party faced typical midterm headwinds for any party in power.

And then there was the redistricting fiasco, which many liberals blame on Mr. Jacobs and his onetime patron, former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. In their telling, Mr. Cuomo struck a corrupt bargain with Senate Republicans a decade ago to put in place a flawed redistricting process and appointed the conservative judges who struck down the lines.

When the party then put a ballot proposition before voters last fall to try to fix it, the measure failed, and some including Mr. Gianaris charged Mr. Jacobs with failing to spend money promoting the measure against a conservative onslaught.

In an interview, Mr. Jacobs said he was being “thrown under the bus” for something he was never asked to do. He defended his stewardship, saying he had raised and spent millions of dollars this fall on turnout operations across the state. And he pointed blame back at Mr. Gianaris, who oversaw the mapmaking process in Albany, for making such a blatant grab for House seats that the courts could not help put intervene.

“People say things, but they just don’t know what they’re talking about,” Mr. Jacobs said.

The argument between the competing factions is broader, though, with much of it resting on a yearslong debate over crime and changes that the Legislature made to the state’s bail law in 2019. The changes were designed to stem the use of cash bail to try to make the criminal justice system more equitable.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, who represents parts of Queens and the Bronx, said that she believed too many Democratic candidates hurt their own causes on Tuesday by “leaning into Republican narratives on crime and safety” rather than more actively reframing them to talk about gun violence and its roots.

But more moderate Democrats like Mr. Wolfson argued that voters had repeatedly given Democrats clear signs that they needed to proactively address “crime and disorder” and that, fairly or not, the bail changes were being disproportionately blamed for upticks in crime.

Republicans on Long Island successfully used the issue as a wedge to help sweep Nassau County elections in 2021, and this year, Mr. Zeldin and his allies up and down the ballot made it the centerpiece of their campaign.

Although Ms. Hochul did push through tweaks toughening the law this spring, she generally avoided making public safety a top campaign message until the race’s final weeks. She also irritated some fellow Democrats when at times she appeared to play down the extent of the threat. (Ms. Hochul did not make any public appearances on Wednesday to discuss the results.)

“We had an early warning system blinking red, and people just ignored it,” Mr. Wolfson said.

Republicans spent millions of dollars hammering their opponents on public safety, and on frustration with the state’s affordability crunch, on their way to winning all four House seats and several State Senate seats on Long Island.

On the South Shore of Nassau County, Anthony D’Esposito, a retired police officer and local Republican official, won a district Mr. Biden had won by 14 percentage points. Republicans achieved a similar swing just to the north, where George Santos, a far-right candidate, led his Democratic opponent by eight points.

Assemblyman Mike Lawler, Mr. Maloney’s opponent, used similar attacks to defeat the campaign chairman in the suburbs of Westchester and Rockland Counties north of New York City. Mr. Maloney made other mistakes — including running in a new district — but Mr. Lawler and Republican super PACs spent millions of dollars highlighting his past support for bail reform.

Statistics suggest many of Republicans’ claims about bail are overly simplistic, but moderate Democrats said arguing over those finer points simply was not working.

“Ignoring voters’ safety concerns is both bad public policy and bad politics that resulted in multiple avoidable losses that will have a very negative effect on not just New York, but as it turns out, the country’s balance of power,” said Representative Thomas R. Suozzi, a retiring Democrat who ran against Ms. Hochul in this year’s Democratic primary.

Mr. Suozzi said that Democrats did not need to compromise their values to find “real solutions that are just, equitable.”

There were certainly still some brighter spots for Democrats, including maintaining their Senate and Assembly majorities. In the Hudson Valley, Representative Pat Ryan, who won an August special election, ran ahead of Ms. Hochul and was poised to once again eke out victory in a tossup race.

In an interview, Mr. Ryan declined to comment on other candidates’ races directly, but he offered some general advice.

“People need to know in their gut you are really going to fight,” he said. “When you sort of pull those punches, you create a vacuum, and that I think leaves room for an opponent to come in and lie.”

Sumber: www.nytimes.com

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