Less than 100 days until the November election; pondering the next State Senate

The 2018 political pace is picking up even though we just turned the calendar to August.

The primary season is winding down, but there are still a few states left to select candidates in primaries, including New York. The marathon is coming to the final few miles. Soon it will be a sprint to the finish.

The Democratic primary for governor is still Andrew Cuomo’s to lose, and he is a smart enough politician to know how to avoid most of the potholes and minefields. Despite all the bad press about Cuomo associates being convicted on corruption charges, the polls, including one released yesterday, continue to show Cuomo far ahead of Cynthia Nixon.

While Nixon is trying her best to make herself into the statewide equivalent of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, most of the state, including even some parts of New York City and the surrounding suburbs, do not in any way resemble the 14th congressional district where Ocasio-Cortez won her Democratic primary in June.

As Bob McCarthy recently pointed out in the Buffalo News, Cuomo has been pretty scarce in Western New York since “Buffalo Billion” became dirty words. But politically speaking, at least in the primary, Cuomo will have a good deal of help in Western New York without setting foot here. Jeremy Zellner’s Democratic organization will turn out good numbers for Cuomo, as they did four years ago. Buffalo Mayor and State Democratic Chairman Byron Brown will also make some contribution to the local Cuomo turnout. A vote here counts like one in New York City, but the margin of victory and the percentage of turnout will be better in Erie than your average NYC county.

In the 2014 primary Cuomo’s victory margin over Zephyr Teachout in Kings County (Brooklyn, the largest NYC county) was 38,433. In Erie County the Cuomo winning vote spread was 32,198, or just 6,235 less than in Kings – despite the fact that there were 715,918 more registered Democrats in Kings than in Erie that year. Turnout in Erie County was 18.6 percent but only 9.5 percent in Kings. So much for NYC prowess.

Where this may be heading in September becomes clearer by the day, and the best indication of the direction comes from the leadership of the Working Families Party which nominated Nixon for governor, and from Nixon herself. The Party is already plotting about what to do to get Nixon off their ballot line and substitute Andrew Cuomo after she loses the Democratic primary.

The scheme involves Nixon declining the Working Families’ nomination for governor. She would then, the plan goes, be substituted for the Party’s current candidate for State Assembly in the district where Nixon resides. The current Democratic Assemblywoman in that district, according to a McCarthy Buffalo News story, does not seem interested in playing along.

And then there is the Working Families problem of what to do with their designee for lieutenant governor, Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams. Williams is one of 51 council members in New York City, which is also populated by dozens of state politicians with little name recognition. Williams has done nothing particular to distinguish himself other than a few arrests following some protests. He had $45,000 in his campaign account as of July 12th but had to refund at least that amount because he accepted illegal corporate campaign contributions, leaving him, at least for the moment, with a balance of $0. The New York Post reported yesterday that Williams owes $625,000 on an investment that went bad several years ago.

Williams’ opponent, incumbent Kathy Hochul, has more than one million dollars in the bank and she has the solid support of the Democratic Party structure. They don’t turn out a lot of voters in a primary in New York City, but they mostly turn out the right ones. Hochul will coast to victory.

If the Working Families Party cannot also find a political landing spot for Williams after he loses the Democratic primary, they will be stuck with him on the November ballot as their candidate for lieutenant governor.

The thing is, Andrew Cuomo will not need the Working Families Party nomination to win in November. He has a little extra help with the Independence and Women’s Equality Parties nominations in hand, besides the likely Democratic line. Cuomo has had his problems with the Working Families folks over the years, so it does not seem improbable that he would be happy to see Working Families drop down or off state election ballots for the next four years.

Republicans, of course, are hoping for some opportunities to fall their way if Nixon remains on the Working Families line in November, along with Green candidate Howie Hawkins and Serve America Movement candidate Stephanie Miner. The assumption is that the three minor party candidates will draw left-of-center votes away from Cuomo. Maybe.

But the thing is, given Cuomo’s substantial lead in the polls at this time over Republican Marc Molinaro, he (Cuomo) can probably afford to lose some votes on the left and still win comfortably. It is also possible that votes that Nixon, Hawkins and Miner attract in November might just come from Democrats and independents who decide to cast their anti-Cuomo vote for one of the three, instead of Molinaro. Molinaro needs all the anti-Cuomo votes he can pick up.

There is also a possible side effect from all this as it relates to the state’s minor parties lineup. In the unlikely event that Nixon attempts to make a real effort to be elected governor in November, she could very well push the Working Families Party up to the third line on the election ballot for the next four years. If she forgoes a serious push, the Party could fall further in the ballot lineup.

I attended a Molinaro town hall meeting last evening. He is articular, smart and has a good sense of humor. It was refreshing to hear a Republican officeholder say that we all need to do more to respect one another, regardless of a person’s political leanings.

Molinaro has relatively little money – less than Rob Astorino had four years ago. He has been in multiple elected positions since he was 18 years old, which probably doesn’t serve as a plus with many people these days. If there is going to be a blue wave anywhere in the country this year, New York is likely to be the bluest of all.

I wrote several months ago that there would not be much of a contest for governor. There is no reason at the beginning of August to think differently, less than one hundred days away from the November election.

The State Senate

There will be some campaign excitement about control of the State Senate. The Republican Party, except for brief interludes in the 1960’s and in the 20-aughts, has dominated that house of the Legislature for decades.

That might change in 2018. Several Republican senators are past their sell-by dates. Democrats already technically have a majority of the senators except for one renegade who has caucused with the Republicans.

The Assembly’s Democrats have a lock on their majority and Cuomo is favored for re-election. If the Senate goes to the Democrats in November there will likely be one-party rule in the state for years to come.

There are only three Democratic senators in office now representing districts north or west of the lower Hudson Valley, including Tim Kennedy of Buffalo. Most of the other 29 Democratic senators reside in or around New York City. So the question will be, what kind of influence will upstate senators carry in a Democratic-controlled Senate? By force of numbers the likely answer is “not much.”

A New York City oriented Senate could move state spending and policy in ways that will not make moderate or conservative upstate Democrats very comfortable. What would be the counter-balance? Will there be one?

One final slightly premature thought

If in fact the Republicans lose the governor’s office and the state Senate, Republican state chairman Ed Cox will have a tough time holding on to that position or he may give it up on his own. A fresh start might be demanded. Look for Erie County Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy to be a prime contender to replace Cox.

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