New York State

McCarthy’s exit may have limited impact on New York’s congressional races

While GOP dysfunction has been on full display, voters may have a short memory with next year’s crucial elections so far away.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy holds a press conference after being ousted as speaker on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy holds a press conference after being ousted as speaker on Capitol Hill. Elizabeth Frantz for The Washington Post via Getty Images

With House Republican leadership in shambles following the ouster of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, political messaging has already begun on both sides of the aisle to capitalize on the situation ahead of next year’s congressional races. New York is no different, where a handful of first-term Republican members helped create the tenuous GOP majority in the House and who now face tough reelections. Although some political observers saw the McCarthy news as a boon for Democrats, even a year out, others thought it won’t hit home with voters in crucial swing districts – especially so far in the future.

In the aftermath of the vote to remove McCarthy as speaker – led by far-right members of the House – both Democrats and Republicans started laying the groundwork for what will inevitably play into their messaging next year. Rep. Mike Lawler, a first-term Republican who won the tightest congressional race in New York last year to represent a nominally Democratic district, criticized Democrats for joining with far-right extremists like Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz and failing to support McCarthy. “You aligned yourself with Matt Gaetz to upend the institution and seek political gain in the process,” Lawler wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, in response to a statement from House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries. “You could have put the country first by refusing to partake in this fraud.” 

Other Republicans in vulnerable seats who supported McCarthy did not as blatantly cast blame on Democrats, but already began doubling down on messaging that helped them get elected in blue-leaning districts. “We have to get back to governing,” Rep. Marc Molinaro of the Hudson Valley wrote on Thursday. “Whoever our next Speaker is, that has to be their number one priority.” On the day that McCarthy lost the speakership, Long Island Rep. Anthony D’Esposito made a fundraising plea on X that touted “common sense over chaos.” They have sought to distance themselves from extremists in their party and attempted to cut through partisan noise in order promote themselves beyond the poor perceptions that voters may develop due to the leadership crisis.

“I don’t think that’s going to have any effect,” Mike Dawidziak, political analyst and pollster on Long Island, told City & State of the McCarthy news. Although he didn’t dispute that races in swing districts on Long Island will be highly competitive next year, he didn’t expect the leadership debacle to resonate with voters in a year. “Sure, the Republicans look bad – but I don’t think anyone is buying the whole Democrats’ ‘We’d do it better,’” Dawidziak said. He added that people “have short memories” anyway, so if people have bad feelings about Republicans now, those will dissipate by next year.

Others said the effects on competitive congressional races will come down to how Republicans handle replacing McCarthy and how fast that happens. “I think it depends on how quickly a new speaker is chosen and how smoothly the transition gets done,” said Republican consultant William F. B. O’Reilly. “As long as this doesn’t run on too long, the effect on next year’s races should be minimal.”

That doesn’t mean that vulnerable Republicans are not concerned about how the GOP’s dysfunction will play in their districts. “The Long Island four are scrambling to avoid any fallout from being tied to the ultraconservatives who have taken over things in the House for now,” Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, said of the four Republican members of the House from Long Island. “The question is whether there is a national backlash against Republican candidates in moderate swing districts all over the country and they get caught up in the tidal wave against their party.”

Republicans both on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley enjoyed success in New York last year in large part due to local issues around crime and bail reform while their counterparts across the country struggled. And according to Levy that climate hasn’t changed much. But he added that while the McCarthy situation on its own won’t have a major impact, the fallout might. “They play into a perception that I know Long Island Republican leaders are worried that the party as a whole has become too extreme for moderate voters,” he said.

Even Democrats are not totally confident that McCarthy will help them next year – but at the very least, they don’t believe the fallout will hurt them. “If (Republicans) pick a speaker tomorrow, and there’s not a lot of drama involved … yeah, it probably goes away,” Keith Davies, campaign manager for the Suffolk County Democratic Party, told City & State. But he added that he doesn’t believe that will actually happen. “It’s going to be a back and forth, and they’re going to push each other even further to the right,” Davies said. “We’ve got Donald Trump in court on TV; we’ve got Kevin McCarthy getting stripped of his speakership. It’s just not a good place for the Republicans to be, and I don’t see it getting much better in the next year.” If nothing else, he said, the McCarthy situation will serve as a high-profile example of Republican dysfunction.

Democratic consultant Basil Smikle expressed even more optimism that it will help Democrats in next year’s congressional races. “It gives credence to (President Joe Biden’s) strongest message of 2020, which is that he and the Democrats would bring the country back to some sense of good governance and normalcy,” Smikle said in a text message. “Given what’s happened with the speaker, Biden is free to reinforce that narrative going into 2024.” He also noted that McCarthy was Republicans’ biggest fundraiser, and with him out, candidates in swing districts may not receive the same benefits anymore.