New York State

Jay Jacobs makes his case for why Democrats underperformed in November

He said strong Republican turnout and competitive primaries – not party leaders – were to blame.

Democratic Party members protested against Jay Jacobs’ leadership outside New York City Hall on Jan. 3.

Democratic Party members protested against Jay Jacobs’ leadership outside New York City Hall on Jan. 3. Kena Betancur/VIEW press/Getty Images

State Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs released a midterm analysis this week outlining the main drivers of Democrats’ election losses in November while defending his performance and laying out plans for the party’s future.

In the 10-page report, the embattled chair pointed to “robust turnout” by Republicans as the main reason for Democratic losses – comparing the 62.8% of Republican voters that cast ballots to the 47% of Democrats who voted. The report said Democratic voter turnout in competitive races exceeded the overall turnout from Democratic voters across the state. Jacobs highlighted other contributing factors that he said resulted in losses, including redistricting complicating their campaign efforts, competitive primaries resulting in financial challenges for the victors, the Republican strategy of focusing on crime and certain media outlets amplifying the Republican crime narrative.

While Republicans underperformed in congressional races across the country, the party successfully flipped several seats that had been held by Democrats in New York. Many Democrats placed the blame on Jacobs for the losses in congressional and state Senate races as well as the relatively close race between Gov. Kathy Hochul and her Republican opponent Lee Zeldin. Several state senators, Assembly members and district leaders have called on Jacobs to resign and penned an open letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul. But the governor has remained by the chair’s side.

In an interview with City & State, Jacobs said there were improvements to be made within the party’s campaign efforts, but added he was undeserving of the harsh criticisms. “The narrative that came out the day after the election was Democrats lost Congress because of New York, losing four congressional seats downstate all because the state Democratic Party didn’t do its job,” Jacobs said. “That narrative goes against the data and the facts. That’s what this report was to clarify, and the data speaks for itself.”

Jacobs argued Republican turnout was high last year mainly because voters were motivated to take back control from Democrats and the party’s emphasis on crime galvanized supporters. He compared Republican turnout to the 2018 midterm elections in which Democrats came out to vote in opposition to then-President Donald Trump. “The question is what percent of Democrats came out versus what percent of Republicans? Republican turnout was significantly higher,” Jacobs said when asked why the party failed to turn out voters. 

However, experts who spoke with City & State argued the Democratic Party had the ability to have high voter turnout given that Democratic voters outnumber Republicans 2 to 1. State Sen. Jessica Ramos, a progressive Democrat representing Queens, agreed with this sentiment while maintaining the state Democratic Party could have done more voter outreach. “There are so many more Democrats than Republicans in the state of New York. The environment was right. The messaging could have used work and the field could have used work,” Ramos said.

In the report, Jacobs highlighted low voter turnout in several state Senate races with progressive incumbents, including Ramos’ district. “Interestingly, districts represented by Progressive incumbents underperformed districts represented by more moderate candidates,” Jacobs wrote. He clarified in an interview that he was addressing criticisms that Democrats were not successful because their candidates were not progressive enough.

But several of the races cited by Jacobs presumably had lower voter turnout because the progressive candidates were running in uncompetitive general election races. “I think he was providing numbers out of context because numbers alone don’t always tell the story,” Ramos said.

Many of the criticisms of Jacobs and the state Democratic Party after the election were about their lack of campaign efforts. Ramos said she did not receive one mailer about the gubernatorial race and the party failed to engage with Latino and Asian communities.

“Money and resources could have been better expended in order to truly have an on-the-ground operation in these hotly contested congressional and Senate districts,” Ramos said. “I represent the most diverse district in the entire country. We speak 200 languages where I come from. Aren’t we worthy of the investment of the Democratic Party?” Ramos said.

As the New York Post reported in November, Zeldin defeated Hochul in an Asian-majority Assembly district in Flushing and Bayside, Queens, as well as in two Assembly districts in southern Brooklyn with large Asian populations. Assembly Member Grace Lee, who represents the Lower East Side, argued in a recent op-ed that if the Democratic Party fails to address the needs of Asian American voters, the party will continue losing their support.

In an attempt to dispute the arguments that he did not do enough groundwork to support candidates, Jacobs highlighted the party’s outreach in the report. Those efforts included a $3.1 million investment for knocking on doors, a $1.5 million investment in absentee ballot recruitment, 5.4 million text messages to voters, local radio ads and robocalls from former President Barack Obama.

While there are still calls for Jacobs to resign, he had high hopes to rebuild the committee. In the conclusion of the report, Jacobs vowed to share a “comprehensive plan for a dynamic state party” with executive committee members and county chairs in the first quarter of the year.

Looking ahead, Jacobs suggested implementing reforms in the next several weeks and remembering key takeaways from the last election. “Instead of dividing ourselves in recriminations, let us work together as a party to win from the top to the bottom of our ticket, especially in the House races we need to take back in 2024,” Jacobs wrote.

Ramos was cautiously optimistic about Jacobs’ ability to lead the party into a better future. “You never want people to fail. But when there was a pattern, you can't help but see the pattern,” Ramos said. “While I hope that the ship is steered better. I do think we need a new captain.”