1/20: GOP Upset: Could New York Be Next?

By Dr. Lee M. Miringoff

In the aftermath of Scott Brown’s stunning upset win in Massachusetts, Democrats around the nation are at best re-evaluating the political landscape.  At worse, panic has set in.  New York, one of the bluest of the blue states, is no exception.  Democrats currently hold all statewide elected positions in the state… governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller, the two U.S. Senate seats, as well as both chambers of the state legislature in Albany.  All of these seats are being contested in 2010.  Ironically, only U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer and NYS Attorney General Andrew Cuomo were actually elected statewide to the positions they currently hold.

Lee Miringoff

Lee Miringoff

There are probably more questions than answers raised by Massachusetts.  Topping the list of Democratic concerns in New York is Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.  She was appointed by an unelected, unpopular governor to fill the term of Hillary Clinton.  Gillibrand’s approval rating lags in the mid-twenties.  The upside:  she enjoys the strong backing of Senator Schumer and the White House.   But, is she vulnerable to an anti-establishment appeal of former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford?  And, what about the GOP candidate in November?  Rudy Giuliani , the strongest potential challenger, has opted not to run.  Former Governor George Pataki remains on the bench without telegraphing his intentions.  The only announced GOPer is Bruce Blakeman.  Not exactly a household name. But, then again, Scott Brown certainly wasn’t either.

Senator Schumer also faces the electorate this fall.  His approval rating has ebbed in recent months from 58% in Mid-September to 54% in November to its current level of 51%.  No challengers have come forward as yet.  Might someone be encouraged by the Massachusetts result?  (The only sad Republicans in Massachusetts are those who thought the race was not winnable and stayed on the sideline.)

The view from Albany is just as murky.  Democrat Andrew Cuomo is likely to challenge David Paterson for governor.  Cuomo is the most popular of the statewide crowd.  But, he would have to walk the fine line between demonstrating he has the experience to be effective while not appearing too close to the dysfunction that has poisoned voters’ views of state government.  The best known on the GOP potential line-up for governor is former Congressman Rick Lazio who last was on the political scene in his failed run against Hillary Clinton in 2000 for the U.S. Senate.  The other positions and candidates are still too far below the radar screen to garner much interest.

So, what conclusions can be drawn at this point?  Not unlike Massachusetts, Democrats far outnumber Republicans in New York State.  But, the proportion of independent voters which has fueled recent GOP victories in Obama-won states… New Jersey, Virginia, and now Massachusetts… is not as big a factor in New York as elsewhere.  Score one for the Democrats.

Obama’s approval rating in New York is 56%.  In and of itself, he is not likely to be a drag for the Democratic slate here in 2010.  Score two for the Democrats.  But, then again, he was popular in Massachusetts and certainly couldn’t deliver in the closing innings.  And, by definition, as the Democratic incumbent, he makes this the off-year election for his party nationwide.  Score one for the GOP.

The energy and enthusiasm Democrats enjoyed over Republicans with voters just one year ago has now dissipated.  Score two for the GOP.

The Democrats have bigger marquee candidates with bigger bank accounts than their potential challengers.  Advantage Democrats.  But, the Democrats are also now the incumbents with an unhappy, change oriented electorate.  Advantage GOP.

Who will win out?  That’s now the biggest question coming out of Massachusetts.