Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Republicans appear to have won three of the four special elections for the New York State Assembly yesterday, picking up two suburban seats previously held by Democrats -- one on Long Island (though there's a small chance absentee ballots could alter the outcome) and one in wealthy Westchester County.
I'm especially interested in the Republican gains in Westchester County because the jurisdiction of close to a million people has had a striking ability to support the winning candidate in state races in New York.
It's gone for the Democrat in the last five presidential elections, just like New York as a whole. But, just like New York as a whole, it supported Republican George Pataki (a Westchester County native) in his three gubernatorial victories, including his upset of Mario Cuomo in 1994. It, like most of the state, preferred Democrat Eliot Spitzer when he won the governorship in 2006.
It voted for Republican U.S. Sen. Alfonse D'Amato when he narrowly won reelection in 1992, then voted for Democrat Chuck Schumer when he beat D'Amato six years later. It favored Hillary Clinton when she won her Senate seat in 2000.
Especially recently, Westchester County could fairly be described as a Democratic jurisdiction. President Obama won 63% of the vote here, better than he did in Massachusetts. Still, Westchester County is about as Democratic as the state as a whole. That means that a Republican's path to statewide victory goes through Westchester County.
Yesterday's Assembly victory isn't the first sign of a Republican resurgence in Westchester County. The party's much bigger victory came last fall, when Republican Rob Astorino defeated Democratic County Executive Andy Spano.
I've written quite a bit about the November defeat of Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi because that result was such a surprise. In many ways, though, Spano's defeat was more remarkable. Spano had been in office longer than Suozzi (he was first elected in 1997) and represented a far more Democratic jurisdiction (Nassau County is traditionally Republican). Yet Astorino beat Spano in a landslide.
What's going on in Westchester County? My guess is that local and state factors matter more than national ones. The local press described Astorino's win as a reaction to high property taxes. The dysfunction of Democrats in Albany, who at least nominally have complete control of state government, can't be helping the party.
All of this occurs at an inconvenient time for New York Democrats, who are desperately trying to hold the New York Senate -- which they won in 2008 after decades of Republican control -- ahead of redistricting. Once again, Westchester County is key.
The county happens to be home to New York's 35th Senate District, where a Republican state senator won an instantly-famous 18-vote victory in 2004. Democrat Andrea Stewart-Cousins won a rematch in 2006 and won reelection easily in 2008. Republicans look as though they've recruited a strong candidate against Stewart-Cousins this year, in a race that could determine control of the Senate.
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