Five Things to Watch on Election Day

Five Things to Watch on Election Day

Five Things to Watch on Election Day
November 3, 2014

1. Control of the State Senate

One of the biggest question marks today is which party will win enough seats to control the New York State Senate. Senate Republicans have long been in power, apart from two years in the minority in 2009 and 2010, and losing the upper house this year would likely leave the party without a statewide power base. City & State’s latest analysis narrowed the list of tossup races to four (or five, counting wild card state Sen. Simcha Felder, a Democrat aligned with the Republicans). Barring any upsets, either party could secure a majority by winning three of the battleground contests.

Although several tossup races are tightening, neither party has seized the upper hand overall. In the Hudson Valley, Democratic state Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk has failed to gain ground on former Republican assemblyman George Amedore, with a new Siena poll showing her down 11 points—essentially the same gap as a month ago. The race is a rematch of the 2012 contest, in which Tkaczyk came from behind to win the 46th District by just 18 votes. However, a poll conducted shortly before the 2012 election showed Amedore with a much narrower three-point lead.

This year the down-to-the-wire races could take place further down the Hudson. Democratic State Sen. Terry Gipson won his first term in the 40th District in 2012 with just 43.8 percent of the vote in a three-way race that included a Conservative Party spoiler. This year’s Republican nominee, Dutchess County Legislator Sue Serino, led early, but Gipson closed a 12-point gap, with the latest Siena poll showing a statistical tie. In the nearby 41st District, which is being vacated by Republican state Sen. Greg Ball, Democrat Justin Wagner is running for the second straight cycle, although Yorktown Councilman Terrence Murphy has capably taken Ball’s place. No pollsters surveyed the race, but heavy campaign spending—including substantial PAC expenditures on both sides—points to a tough competition.

Finally, state Sen. Mark Grisanti is running a long-shot campaign to keep his Western New York seat despite losing the Republican primary. Vying to represent the 60th  District are Grisanti on the Independence Party line, Democrat Marc Panepinto, Republican Kevin Stocker and the Conservative Party’s Tim Gallagher. Democrats argue that Panepinto will have the upper hand since his three right-leaning opponents will split the vote. Some key players are still gunning for Grisanti, but winning without the backing of a major party line would be unprecedented in recent memory.  

2. Women’s Issues

The Women’s Equality Act, which Cuomo announced to loud applause during his 2013 State of the State address, has stalled for two years in the Legislature. But the debate over one of the 10 points—a controversial abortion rights measure that would codify the U.S. Supreme Court Roe v. Wade ruling in state law—has resonated on the campaign trail. Republicans have complained that they were unable to pass the nine of the ten points of the legislation that they supported, and Cuomo has at times said breaking up the package makes sense. But during the campaign he has doubled down on the full package, even going so far as to create a Women’s Equality Party to emphasize his support for the bill and try to win more female voters.

However, the Working Families Party, another third party, has raised concerns about the creation of the Women’s Equality Party. The WFP has held a solid spot on the ballot for more than a decade, but this year they could have a harder time securing the required 50,000 votes needed to retain their status for the next four years. The party endorsed Cuomo for governor again this year, but the rank-and-file members were split. Concern over the WFP reaching the threshold has prompted several prominent Democrats to urge voters to support Cuomo on the WFP line instead of the Democratic line. Further complicating things is that Cuomo is also on a WEP line—the Women’s Equality Party—and Cuomo has been actively campaigning for voters to support him on that line as well. 

3. Statewide Surprises?

At a rally of unionized workers in Times Square on Monday, lieutenant governor candidate Kathy Hochul referred to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli as her “partners in government”—then quickly corrected herself, calling them as her “soon-to-be” partners. But the minor gaffe was understandable, reflecting the Democrats’ strong position in the major statewide races going into Election Day.

Cuomo is poised to coast to a clear-cut victory (with Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins potentially cutting into his overall margin). Comptroller Tom DiNapoli seems like he will run away with the race against Republican challenger Bob Antonacci. The one contest that seems like it could be even remotely close is the battle for Attorney General between incumbent Democrat Eric Schneiderman and Republican challenger John Cahill. But even that is a stretch. The latest Siena College poll showed Schneiderman leading Cahill 55-35. The poll was conducted before the two squared off in a fiery debate in Buffalo, with both candidates leveling accusations that their opponent had shady special interest connections or ethical failings. The debate may have narrowed the gap, but it would be a real surprise if Cahill pulled out a win.

4. A GOP Congressional Wave?

New York may be a blue state with a 2.5-to-1 Democratic edge in enrollment over Republicans, but one place the GOP appears poised to pick up seats is in congressional races throughout the state. Democrats are fighting to save seats in Suffolk County, Central New York and the North Country. Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop is slightly trailing in the polls against Republican challenger Lee Zeldin in the 1st Congressional District on Long Island. Another Democratic incumbent, Rep. Dan Maffei, looks like he is in deep trouble against GOP challenger John Katko in the Syracuse area district. And in the North Country, the open seat vacated by Rep. Bill Owens looks like it will be picked up by Republican newcomer Elise Stefanik, who holds a commanding lead over Democrat Aaron Woolf.

If that weren’t bad enough, Democrats also have basically given up hope on winning seats they thought were in play months ago. On Staten Island, despite the fact he is facing a federal trial in February and the national party essentially abandoned him, Rep. Michael Grimm looks like he may win against Democratic challenger Domenic Recchia.

Another potential pick-up for Democrats was the 19th Congressional District, where Republican Rep. Chris Gibson faces a challenge from the independently wealthy Sean Eldridge, who is married to Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes. National party officials had high hopes for Eldridge’s chances in the moderate Catskill and upper Hudson Valley district, but his campaign has failed to connect with voters and he heads into Election Day down double-digits in the polls.

Hudson Valley Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney is facing a rematch with former Congresswoman Nan Hayworth, and while he is ahead in the polls and has received some endorsements from Republicans in the district, he still has onlya slight edge. If Maloney loses, it will be clear that this was a bad year for Democrats. 

5. Reshuffling the Ballot

One of the lasting impacts of this election could be an overhaul of the order that candidates appear on the ballot for the next four years. The vote totals in the race for governor determine that order.

When heading into the voting booth today, voters may notice that the order is Democrat, Republican, Conservative, Working Families Party, Independence Party and then the Green Party. So, to vote for Green Party candidate for governor Howie Hawkins, voters first have to scan past Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s name three times and Republican candidate Rob Astorino twice.

If the polls are correct, that could all change. Hawkins looks like he could secure enough votes to propel the Green Party into the third position. A recent Siena poll had him receiving 9 percent of the vote. By comparison, in 2010 Carl Paladino, the Republican nominee, received roughly 5 percent of the vote on the Conservative Party line, propelling that party to 3rd slot on the ballot. With Astorino carrying the banner for the Conservative Party it will likely secure roughly the same percentage, or possibly a little bit more, but that result would still make the party's total significantly less than the number of votes Hawkins would get if he comes in around 9 percent.

Because the Green Party doesn’t cross endorse, their success could have a more lasting impact. Instead of seeing the name of a Democrat or Republican printed for a second time in the 3rd slot on the ballot, voters would see a Green Party candidate’s name. It’s impossible to know what kind of impact that change would have in the long run, but one potential result is that Democratic candidates could lose votes to more prominent Green Party rivals, since both parties tend to be left of center on the political spectrum.

Where the rest of the parties will fall on the ballot line will also be worth watching. While there probably won’t be a lot of late night drama or recounts to determine who wins the statewide races, there could be some close calls when it comes to party leaders finding out if they will have a future.

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Michael Johnson
Jon Lentz
is City & State’s former editor-in-chief.