Top Democratic consultant Bruce Gyory weighs in on the recent congressional primaries in our print issue out today:
Pundits do a good job of assessing winners and losers after electoral events like the recent congressional primaries. Few are better, for example, than City & State’s First Read on Fridays.
Yet while this last primary’s victors have already been determined, I would like to parse the significant factors underlying who won, who lost and why.
First, let’s look at the GOP Senate race. In statewide primaries generally the most potent combination a candidate can achieve is being dubbed the most conservative in the field and winning the designation of upstate’s horse. That is what Wendy Long rode to victory.
The GOP registration breakdown is 53 percent from upstate, 30 percent from the suburbs (Long Island, Westchester and Rockland) and 17 percent from New York City. But in terms of who actually votes in GOP primaries, upstate is in the driver’s seat. In the 2010 gubernatorial primary, the regional split in the vote among Republicans was 66 percent upstate, 25 percent in the suburbs and 9 percent in New York City.
The preliminary returns in this year’s Senate primary show upstate voters casting 60 percent of the GOP vote, the suburbs accounting for 27 percent and the five boroughs making up the remaining 13 percent. Long carried upstate by a wide margin, enabling her to win a majority in a three-way race. Long first demonstrated her strength upstate at the GOP convention. In a Republican primary, Turner’s base in New York City and Maragos’ in Nassau simply were too slender to carry a statewide primary.
Regionalism was also bolstered by ideology. Long was perceived to be the most conservative candidate in the race (e.g., carrying Suffolk County). Her endorsement by the Conservative Party became the seal of approval for right-wing Republicans.
Empirically, the most conservative candidate wins Republican primaries (D’Amato over Javits in 1980, Pataki over Rosenbaum in 1994, Paladino over Lazio in 2010). Bill Weld realized this when he dropped out of the gubernatorial primary after John Faso bested him at the convention in 2006.
On the Democratic side, I have three principal observations about the recent primary, the first being that King Lear endorsements didn’t work. By this I mean voters did not find persuasive the frustration-laden endorsements of longtime political leaders. Vito Lopez working against Nydia Velázquez and Ed Towns endorsing Charles Barron in an attempt to deny Hakeem Jeffries, his seat both failed. In fact, Lopez’s and Towns’ interventions probably helped lead Velázquez and Jeffries to landslide victories.
A second noteworthy development is that emerging ethnic and racial constituencies surging from the census also advanced at the polls. The old conventional wisdom that Asians and Dominicans don’t vote was smashed by Grace Meng’s victory and Adriano Espaillat’s strong showing against Charlie Rangel. John Liu expanded the Asian share of the vote in New York City from 3 percent to 10 percent in the 2009 primary. Grace Meng proved this result was not an aberration. The rise of the Asian voter and the political coming of age of the city’s Dominicans will remain forces to be reckoned with for decades.
Given this increasing diversity, not only do we have a clear minority majority in the New York City electorate but also a growing diversity within the minority communities forming that majority (among blacks, Asians and Hispanics). This fact puts a premium on coalition building, personified by Hakeem Jeffries’ 3–1 trouncing of Barron. In this district, the winning candidate had to establish his appeal to working class and poor African-Americans, Caribbean-American immigrants and upwardly mobile black professionals, as well as Jewish, Hispanic, “yuppie” and Italian-American voters. Jeffries did that, while Barron never could.
As we try to understand future primaries, we should focus on regionalism and ideology for the GOP, and the political implications of census trends and coalition building for the Democrats. And if you are a candidate and an angry veteran political leader tempts you with his endorsement, run away, as if escaping a midsummer night’s dream, which will actually become a nightmare.
Bruce N. Gyory is a political consultant at Corning Place Communications in Albany and an adjunct professor of political science at SUNY Albany.
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