The GOP in New York faces a real challenge in the 2014 statewide elections. New York’s Republicans have lost the last five elections—three presidential (2004, 2008 and 2012) and two gubernatorial (2006 and 2010), by landslide margins.
Bruce N. Gyory
I am not a Republican, but I greatly respect the GOP’s accomplishments from Dewey through Pataki. I also believe that having both parties actively engaged at the vital center of New York’s electorate is a good thing for governance. How should the GOP proceed? Realism and honesty requires weighing four factors.
(1) New York’s gubernatorial cycles tend to run in 16- to 20-year periods (e.g., Republicans had Dewey’s three terms, interrupted by Harriman’s one term, leading to four Rockefeller terms, replaced by five Democratic terms under Hugh Carey and Mario Cuomo and into Pataki’s three terms). Thus, partisan fatigue in gubernatorial politics does not appear ready to break the GOP’s way.
(2) Political demographics weigh heavily against the GOP. The Democratic registration advantage over the Republicans is 3.1 million voters (5.9 million to 2.8 million). The GOP has a tough time overcoming the Democrats sweeping New York City by margins of over 4 to 1, considering that Democrats often split or carry upstate and the four downstate suburban counties. Women now constitute a 53 percent share of November’s electorate in New York, and Democrats have crossed 65 percent among female voters in recent elections.
(3) The aggregate minority vote (black, Hispanic, Asian and multiracial) grew to a 29 percent share of the total statewide vote in 2010. The Democrats carried well over 80 percent of minority voters in 2010. Once this aggregate minority vote hits a full third of the state’s electorate, no Republican can win statewide, unless they capture at least a third of that minority electorate.
(4) New York Republicans no longer benefit from a distinct brand. Dewey, Rockefeller, D’Amato and Pataki defined what it meant to be a Republican in New York. Their moderation was well suited to the state’s electorate, providing a viable contrast to the Taft, Goldwater and Bush 43 brands on the national level, which never played well in New York. In recent years, the GOP has too often been stained by the Tea Party brew—one of the reasons that no Repub-lican currently holds statewide office.
In order to surmount these daunting challenges, the GOP needs to recreate a winning coalition for the long haul. That means snaring votes from key Democratic registration blocs, as Pataki did with Jewish and white Catholic voters. Cracking the hard shells of gender and race are a necessity, not a luxury. As recently as 2001 and 2002 Bloomberg and Pataki carried just shy of half of Hispanics and a majority of Asian voters, and their pro-choice credentials helped with women voters.
Just carrying pro-gun and rural small towns, as well as right-to-life voters, barely gets the GOP above 30 percent of the electorate statewide. Those voters are not even a majority upstate. For Republicans to prevail, the key is comfortably carrying suburban communities on Long Island, in Westchester and all across upstate, as well as pulling 35 percent of the urban vote from New York City and the Thruway cities from Albany on to Buffalo, on top of the party’s small-town rural base.
There is, in fact, a path to Republican renewal in 2014. GOP candidates need to resonate not just with the base but also with moderates and independents, especially from the female majority. If, however, they just keeping talking to themselves, as New York’s Democrats did in the 1960s and 1990s, they will only fall farther behind. That approach may lead to joyful summers before primaries, but there will be no victories to harvest after October’s full moon.
Bruce N. Gyory is a political consultant with Corning Place Communications and an adjunct professor of political science at SUNY Albany.
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