A look at the State Supreme Court races and some other stuff

Long-time observers of the local political scene generally view this year’s election as one of the most boring in memory. The national campaign has taken up most of the energy of politics in 2016.

This observation obviously does not apply to anyone who is running for office this year or working on a local campaign. It is a challenge for them, however, to get the general population to pay attention.

There is a race for Erie County District Attorney between Democrat John Flynn and Republican Joe Treanor. Flynn’s win in the Democratic primary and his continued fundraising success will likely carry him to victory.

In local state legislative races the potential action remains in the 145th Assembly District (Democrat John Ceretto versus Republican Angelo Morinello); the 146th Assembly District (Democrat Steve Meyer and Republican Ray Walter); the 60th Senate District (Democrat Amber Small and Republican Chris Jacobs); and the 61st Senate District (Democrat Tom Loughran and Republican Mike Ranzenhofer). With two weeks to go, three of these seats still look to go the incumbents (Ceretto, Walter and Ranzenhofer). Voter turnout, however, can play a big role, particularly in the 146th Assembly and 61st Senate Districts, where Democratic-leaning Amherst, with a big presidential vote, could make a difference.

The race for the 60th District continues to draw the most attention primarily because of the possibility that it may assist Republicans in retaining control of the Senate. We will see the next campaign financial reports after October 28th, but it is already obvious that hundreds of thousands of dollars are being raised locally and coming in from out-of-town to fuel the TV ads and mailings.

As noted in a previous post, Democrat Amber Small has the advantages of a large Democratic enrollment edge in the district plus what may turn out to be a strong local vote for Hillary Clinton (more on that below). Jacobs has a money advantage as well as the fact that he has already run well within the confines of the Senate District in his two victories for Erie County Clerk.

While the fight for the 60th District will go right to the wire, word on the street is that Jacobs holds a strong lead in polling that has been done in the district.

State Supreme Court

There are two Supreme Court seats in the 8th Judicial District on the ballot this year. There are four candidates from Western New York in the race plus a lawyer from New York City that the wheeling-dealing Working Families Party dumped on the ballot.

The two Republican candidates are Mary Slisz, Managing Partner at the LoTempio PC Law Group, and Daniel Furlong, a Supreme Court Clerk. The Democrats are Orchard Park Town Judge Lynn Keane and Chautauqua County Court Clerk Grace Hanlon.

The TV ads for the candidates are well under way and mailers should be showing up this week. Rules for judicial campaigns require proper decorum. Experience and family are highlighted because there are no issues to discuss.

The only thing that judicial candidates have some control of that might impact their chances is the amount of their financial resources. More ads and mailers will increase visibility. We will get a better picture after the last pre-election financial reports are available (October 28). It is likely that the candidates have personally contributed the largest portion of their total receipts.

The factors that will most likely control the fate of the candidates, however, are party registration and voter turnout. Turnout, of course, will be significantly impacted by how things go with the presidential election in these parts.

In the eight counties that comprise the 8th Judicial District voter registrations show approximately 394,000 Democrats and 280,000 Republicans.

Here is how the Democrat-Republican vote for President went in the District in the past three presidential elections in the 8th District:

Year                Democrat          Democratic Vote                    Republican  Republican Vote

2004                 Kerry                                     353,653                 Bush                          316,062

2008                 Obama                                 361,735                 McCain                       276,950

2012                  Obama                                 329,485                 Romney                     265,786

In the 2016 presidential primaries, here was the vote in the 8th District:

Clinton  71,794   If you add 80% of Sanders vote the total becomes 130,500

Trump    71,739  If you add 80% of the Kasich & Cruz vote the total becomes 104,970

Overall, total 8th District Democratic votes in the in the presidential primary exceeded total Republican votes by 31,899; a margin of 56% to 44%.

Given all that has gone on thus far in the presidential election, many observers would argue that Trump has hit his vote ceiling and is probably coming down from that point. Clinton’s support in many polls is going up a bit and edging toward 50 percent.

Recent presidential polls indicate that about 90 percent of registered Democrats are supporting Hillary Clinton and approximately 80 percent of Republican voters support Donald Trump. It is not likely that Clinton will attract a large number of Republican votes. It is likely, however, that a significant portion of Republican registered voters will simply stay home. The relative lack of interest in local races in Western New York this year will not do much to bring out Republicans who are turned off by Trump.

Given the voter registration in the 8th District, combined with the party support Clinton will have from registered Democrats compared with Trump’s potential Republican numbers, it is very likely that the heads of the tickets in 2016 will attract something similar to the margins in 2004, 2008 and 2012 noted above.

Now let’s drill down a bit more into how local Democratic and Republican candidates for State Supreme Court have fared in presidential years.

In 2004 there were three justices to be elected in the 8th District. There were two cross endorsements that year (Joseph Glownia and John Curran), with only one seat contested. Paula Feroleto received 304,507 votes on the Democratic line while Frank Caruso received just 226,938 votes on the Republican line.

In 2008 there were two justices to be elected, but John Michalek received a cross endorsement, leaving one seat to be determined. Tracey Bannister received 266,458 votes on the Democratic line, while Jeffrey Voelkl garnered 205,808 votes on the Republican line.

There was no State Supreme Court seat on the ballot in the 2012 election.

In all gubernatorial and presidential election years there is always a large drop-off from the Democratic and Republican votes for the head of the ticket compared with candidates for judicial offices. Feroleto’s drop-off from Kerry’s vote was 14 percent in 2004, while Caruso’s drop-off from Bush was 28 percent. In 2008, the drop-off for both parties’ judicial candidates compared with the presidential candidates was 26 percent.

What all this means is that in a presidential year the election chances for candidates for State Supreme Court are tied in great measure to voter enrollment and the presidential vote. In races where candidates can do very little other than present their resumes, party enrollment and turnout are very strong indicators of how things may turn out. These factors favor Lynn Keane and Grace Hanlon in 2016.

Doing the right thing

Donald Trump certainly riled the country with his comments during the last debate that raised doubts about whether he will concede after he loses the election. Conservative poohbahs including Laura Ingraham and Charles Krauthammer strongly criticized him. Polls showed that a majority of Republicans were bothered by the comments.

Enter Secretary of Commerce-Designee Congressman Chris Collins, who joined in the criticism of Trump. So did Erie County Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy. No nasty words here – good for them.

Trump does not understand that whether he concedes or not will not impact the results. No one will care. My guess is that in order to preserve some standing for his now diminished brand (which evidently is the major portion of his “wealth”), he will find some short but painful way of surrendering. Perhaps it will be by using the same sort of words he used after five years of claiming that President Obama was not an American citizen. “Hillary Clinton is President-elect of the United States. Period.”

Some sports notes

The Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians are in the World Series! Wow, who would have thought? In a normal year a series between these two teams might not draw much attention, but this is not a normal year. Here’s hoping that the Series goes a full seven games, which will distract some of our attention from the presidential campaign until at least November 2.

Meanwhile, in Pegulaville, we find the Sabres again in last place in their division, while the Bills came back to earth following a four game winning streak.

Are the Sabres going for a number-one draft choice again?

With games against New England and Seattle coming up in the next two weeks, the Bills could very well have a 4 win 5 loss record by November 7. The team has had several win spurts in recent years that have amounted to nothing. We have seen this show before.