As chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Rep. Steve Israel was responsible for his party’s congressional election efforts all across the country. Following last week’s election, Israel praised his candidates, including those in his home state of New York, for gaining ground after Republicans had said Democrats would lose seats in Congress.
City & State: How did Democrats do on Election Day, in the country as a whole and in New York?
Steve Israel: Nationally, House Democrats had a much better night than anyone anticipated. House Republicans had predicted that they would net up 16 seats. Instead, House Democrats will net between six and eight seats. We also started to roll back the Tea Party tide, and particularly in New York, where Congresswoman Hayworth and Congresswoman Buerkle, two Tea Party icons, were defeated. We also had a much better night in New York than we anticipated. Sadly, we lost one incumbent, but we protected every other incumbent and picked up two seats.
CS: Were the results more of a mixed bag? Sean Patrick Maloney and Dan Maffei won, but Rep. Kathy Hochul lost to Chris Collins and Republican Rep. Michael Grimm easily held onto his seat even though he has seemed vulnerable, given the investigation into his 2010 fundraising.
SI: Michael Grimm, his vulnerability is just a matter of time. He’s got bigger problems than re-election. Look, we had some short-term setbacks, but long-term structural opportunities, there is no such thing as a safe Republican district in New York any more. Not one. Even in the Southern Tier, the Democratic candidate gave Tom Reed a serious run for his money that Tom Reed never thought was going to happen. So redistricting in New York has actually created a decade-long momentum for Democrats, and you saw that last night. Our frontliners, Bishop, Owens, Slaughter, were all re-elected. We lost Kathy Hochul, but that district is the second most Republican district in America held by a Democrat. The only other district that has a Democratic incumbent that is more Republican than Hochul’s is in Utah. So that was a tough deal from day one. But then, defeating Nan Hayworth, defeating Buerkle, those were positive signs for us and reflected the direction that New York is going, congressionally.
CS: President Barack Obama was at the top of the ticket and won handily in New York, albeit with a slightly weaker performance than four years ago against John McCain. What impact do you think that had on congressional races in New York and elsewhere?
SI: His coattails were certainly long and robust in New York, and that certainly helped. Coattails matter. In New York, where he ran strong, it helped. In other areas of the country, where he had no coattails, or had reverse coattails, our candidates lost. But at the end of the day, we still picked up six to eight seats in a pretty rough national environment.
CS: Is the Republican Party dying in New York?
SI: I would never say that they are dead or dying. I would say that they face some long-term structural barriers. Number one, redistricting has put every single Republican seat in play. Number two, if you’re a Tea Party Republican in New York, you’re facing serious problems. What happened in 2010 in New York was it was a Tea Party tsunami that swept in candidates like Hayworth and Buerkle, but then the Tea Party tide receded, leaving them high and dry with right-wing voting records in moderate districts. So the Tea Party is over in New York.
CS: Didn’t Rep. Nan Hayworth tack toward the center?
SI: Yeah, but people are too smart for that, to be fooled. This is a woman who campaigned literally by saying she was a radical and then after redistricting it seemed as if she was campaigning to be a member of the Democratic caucus. You just can’t make that transition and get away with it. What really surprised me in New York was the closeness of Reed-Shinagawa – well, I should say it surprised me, actually. We had a sense that that thing was closer than it looked. But even Tom Reed got a run for his money.
CS: What went wrong for the Democratic Party in Staten Island, where Mark Murphy, the Democratic nominee, tried but failed to oust Republican Rep. Michael Grimm?
SI: Staten Island is the only urban district in America that voted for John McCain in 2008. That’s a tough district, but it’s one we think we can win as more people have more information about Mike Grimm’s ethical baggage.