With Brooklyn City Councilman Charles Barron’s congressional campaign gaining some surprising traction, political observers are beginning to acknowledge that Barron stands a real chance of upsetting Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries in Tuesday’s congressional primary.
But even if that occurs, a future that includes Congressman Charles Barron would not be entirely assured, according to a number of Brooklyn political observers, who said Jeffries could simply continue running in November on the Working Families Party line — something Jeffries has reportedly already said he would do.
Because most Democratic voters are accustomed to voting for the Democratic nominee in general elections rather than looking over to Row D and the Working Families Party line, running solely on the WFP line is an uphill battle for any candidate. For instance, a number of WFP-backed New York City Council candidates, who barely lost Democratic primaries in 2009, attempted running on the WFP lines in general elections. All were beaten badly.
But central Brooklyn voters have a history of voting for candidates on third party lines. In 1980, then-Assemblyman Al Vann was knocked off the Democratic line through a petition challenge by the Brooklyn Democratic Party – but ended up winning solely on the Liberal Party line. Brooklyn ex-Assemblyman Roger Green also pulled off the same feat. And in 2003, Councilwoman Letitia James won 77 percent of the vote running on the Working Families Party line.
“We always underestimate poor and minority voters, who are a lot more sophisticated than we think,” said Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf, a veteran of central Brooklyn politics. “These voters tend to really come out when it’s in their interest.”
In 2003, James was able to sweep to victory amid a groundswell of support from the Democratic establishment in a race against Geoffrey Davis. For different reasons – most notably, Barron’s controversial foreign policy positions – there could be a similar establishment groundswell for Jeffries.
An extremely low turnout June primary — in which Barron may ride a rabid but small base of supporters to victory — would be quite different than a high turnout general election featuring Barack Obama at the top of the ticket. The challenge for Jeffries would be educating non-prime, less politically educated Democratic voters about the down-ballot race.
“Hakeem certainly could win the general election,” said Democratic consultant Doug Forand, noting that he believes Jeffries will win on Tuesday. “It would take a massive ground operation and a lot of work by advocacy organizations.”
Of course, this whole scenario would depend not only Barron winning on Tuesday, but on Jeffries continuing to run for Congress — rather than simply running for re-election to the Assembly. A Jeffries spokeswoman previously told the Politicker that, “We intend to win on June 26. We will address any questions about the general election once the primary is concluded.”
At a New York City Council hearing this morning, meanwhile, Barron deflected a reporter’s questions about Jeffries possibly continuing to run against him in November.
“I don’t know, don’t know, don’t care,” Barron said. “You need to ask him that.”
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