One more look at the 2022 elections in New York State

Election 2022 was certainly one of the most unexpected political stories in recent history.  Democrats defied expectations, maintaining control of the Senate and coming within three or four seats of holding the House.  Republicans were anticipating gains of 30 or more House seats and two or three Senate seats.  The Republican House majority has more than two dozen potential rebels, making management impossible. 

In New York Democrats won all of the statewide offices but the Republicans made gains in congressional and state legislative seats.

A summary of the results:

  • Kathy Hochul, in her first race for governor, won by a margin of 5.7 percent (326,056 votes).  In their first runs for governor both Mario Cuomo and George Pataki won with less than five percent of the vote.
  • Chuck Schumer, in his fifth race for United States Senator, was re-elected with a margin of 13 percent of the vote (747,915 votes).  In his previous race for re-election in 2016 Schumer won by a 44 percent margin.  Perhaps his high visibility as Senate Majority Leader contributed to the narrower win this year.
  • Tom DiNapoli, in his fourth race for State Comptroller (he first served three-plus years by appointment of the Legislature after Alan Hevesi’s resignation), won by a margin of 13.5 percent (779,783 votes).  In 2018 DiNapoli won by 36 percent.
  • Letitia James, in her second race for Attorney General, was elected by a margin of 8.4 percent (480,952 votes).  In 2018 she was first elected by a margin of 27 percent.  James’ work, particularly in investigating former Governor Andrew Cuomo and Donald Trump’s businesses, undoubtedly drew negative attention from supporters of Cuomo and Trump.
  • The winning margins for Schumer, DiNapoli, and James were all considerably below their previous re-election efforts, and their winning margins were not all that much greater than Hochul’s, who was running statewide for governor for the first time.
  • Republicans added four House seats to their state delegation, with three of those wins coming on Long Island. The judicial-directed gerrymander helped Republicans. Andrew Cuomo’s appointment of right-leaning Judges on the Court of Appeals helped Republicans. There was only one Democratic member of Congress in New York State who out polled Joe Biden’s 2020 numbers: Brian Higgins in the 26th district.
  • It appears that Republicans flipped a net of five Assembly seats and one State Senate seat, although a couple seats have not been officially called.  That would mean that Democrats will hold a 102 to 48 majority in the Assembly and a 42 to 21 majority in the Senate.

By party registration there are 3.3 million more registered Democrats than Republicans in the state.  There are actually more people registered to vote who are not affiliated with either party than the number registered as Republicans.

Why with such a large gap in party registrations did the Democrats on a statewide basis win by considerably smaller margins than the party might have provided?

  1. Turnout, turnout, turnout.  Statewide the turnout was approximately 47.5 percent, but it was regionalized, with the numbers in Republican upstate and Long Island much stronger than in Democratic-heavy New York City.  State turnout was 5 percent less than in 2018, but 47 percent higher than 2014, and 21 percent higher than in 2010.  New York City turnout, as per usual, was very low (36 percent); on Long Island the number was 53 percent; in Erie County 54 percent. 
  2. Money, money, money.  We will not see a final accounting of this year’s campaign finances until December 5.  Reports filed through 11 days prior to the election, however, point to Hochul’s dominance in fundraising compared with Zeldin in their own campaign accounts (Hochul $50.4 million; Zeldin $21.9 million).  These numbers will grow by millions when the final reports are in.  That alone, however, doesn’t tell the tale of 2022.  Zeldin benefitted greatly from a friendly billionaire, Ronald Lauder.  Through October 25th Lauder-connected PACs provided $9.9 million to aid the Zeldin effort, and millions more came in after the last pre-election filing.  There was some Democratic Governors Association PAC money directed to helping Hochul, but it was just a fraction of the cash that Lauder and his allies provided.
  3. Hot button issues.  Crime/bail reform.  Abortion.  Donald Trump.  Inflation.  Those were the topline issues in New York this year. How much detail got through to the voters is another matter.  Lee Zeldin’s rich friends flooded the airwaves with negative ads that showed crime but only offered bumper sticker solutions.  Zeldin tried to back away from his previous stances on the abortion issue, but in the end, with changes in already existing laws highly unlikely, the political value of the issue lost its potency.  The Trump factor worked well for Hochul.  Republicans didn’t and can’t explain what the state of New York can do to bring down inflation.  All-in-all, the Zeldin-connected crime ads and Hochul’s spots linking him to Trump were the most effective while creating a mostly negative impression on voters that may have kept turnout down.

What does this mean for the next four years?  Hochul maintained a good working relationship with the Legislature during her first legislative session as the Governor and Legislature got to know one another better.  Having been elected in her own right, the Governor should have more leverage in dealing with legislative proposals, particularly those coming from the far left of the legislative caucuses.  The Governor can now take a more measured approach to public policy. 

Politically, the Governor should be able to solidify her control of the state’s Democratic Party.  State Chairman Jay Jacobs is under fire from the progressive wing of the party but Hochul owes Jacobs a debt of gratitude for his early and continuing support of her candidacy right from the get-go in August 2021 and throughout the entire campaign.  Hochul was quoted by Politico as saying in reference to the state party “I think this is a great opportunity for us to rebuild.” If there is to be a change in party leadership it will only come with the mutual agreement of Hochul and Jacobs.

As the Governor of New York, having demonstrated her political skills, Hochul may play a role in the future of the Democratic Party nationally.

A footnote

Nancy Pelosi stepped down as House Democratic leader last week. She was undoubtedly one of the greatest speakers in the past hundred years. 

Her announcement speech in the House chambers was attended by the entire Democratic caucus plus just a small number of Republicans, including Whip Steve Scalise, who may feel some kinship considering what he and Pelosi have experienced.

An eagle eye of the televised event also spotted Congressman-Elect Nick Langworthy, off to the side.  He even applauded politely.

I give Nick credit for being there.  For one thing, his presence demonstrated his appreciation of the historic occasion.  It also shows that he understands that sometimes politics, even in this day and age, can use some civility.

Twitter @kenkruly