Democrats weren’t able to hold onto one of their last seats of power on Long Island as Republican Ed Romaine handily beat Democrat Dave Calone in the race for Suffolk County executive. Although Romaine, who has held local elected office for several decades and currently serves as Town of Brookhaven supervisor, was considered the favorite in the race, his margin of victory indicates that the red wave that has swept the island for the past two years has not yet ebbed.
Results are still rolling in, but Romaine holds a large lead over businessman Calone with about two-thirds of districts reporting. As of 1 a.m., he led with over 57% of the vote to Calone’s 43%. At his well-attended election night party, Romaine declared victory ahead of what final results will likely show as a landslide victory. “You’ve given me a large mandate tonight, and I plan to use that mandate to move this county forward,” Romaine told supporters.
Going into the race, most Democrats and political observers did not expect Calone to win but were eager to see how much he could cut into Romaine’s margin of victory. They said that if Calone outperformed expectations and results showed a fairly close race, it would be a good sign for Democrats ahead of next year’s congressional elections. But preliminary results show that Romaine handily won the race, despite being outspent 2-1 by Calone – which could be a bad sign for Democrats’ 2024 prospects. “Romaine won because Republicans came out in far greater numbers than Democrats, even in many places (where) Democrats outnumber Republicans in enrollment,” Larry Levy, executive dean of National Institute of Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, told City & State in a text message. “The red wave that swamped Long Island in 2021 and 2022 is still about as high as it was… but it’s still too early to tell.”
The Town of North Hempstead in Nassau County was traditionally a Democratic stronghold until Republican nominee Jen Desena was elected town supervisor in 2021. On Tuesday night, Desena declared victory over Democrat Jon Kaiman. Although the Nassau County Board of Elections website was down all night, a source in the county’s BOE shared results that showed Desena with a comfortable lead.
“I can’t see one bright spot for the Democrats in Nassau County that wasn’t absolutely guaranteed by the drawing of district lines,” Levy said, noting how Democrats’ struggles in the Long Island suburbs contrasted with Democratic wins in suburbs elsewhere in the country. “Like in 2022, (Long Island) is still a suburban anomaly,” he said.
Overall, that doesn’t bode very well for Democrats who are hoping to flip key congressional seats in the suburbs next year. Republicans currently hold all four House seats on Long Island – two in Suffolk County, which just solidified GOP control with Romaine’s victory, and two in Nassau County. The Town of North Hempstead exists entirely within Rep. George Santos’ district, and Desena had initially endorsed the now-indicted and disgraced serial liar. Her victory in the traditionally blue stronghold indicates that local voters in one of the most closely-watched congressional districts in the nation are still trending red.
The scale of Calone’s loss indicates that he did not manage to turn out Democrats in big numbers, despite the millions that his campaign spent to boost his name recognition and his background as a former prosecutor. Although Democrats generally perform better in presidential election years in New York, the results show that party leaders cannot take anything for granted.
The term-limited Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone was one of the last Democrats to hold countywide office on Long Island following the red wave that washed over the region two years ago. In 2021, Republicans flipped the Nassau County executive seat, won a supermajority in the Nassau County legislature, gained control of the Suffolk County legislature and won both of Long Island’s district attorney seats. Last year, two unexpected victories in Nassau County helped Republicans gain control of the House. Meanwhile, Republican former Rep. Lee Zeldin, dominated on Long Island and most of New York City’s suburbs in the gubernatorial race against Gov. Kathy Hochul.
Zeldin, who still serves as the de facto leader of the state GOP following his run for governor, spoke with reporters in Suffolk County before polls closed. He said that voters’ opposition to progressive policies coming out of New York City and Albany had turned the tide on Long Island, and that wouldn’t be changing any time soon. “It's been decades since the last time that we have seen both of the county executives Republican, both the district attorneys, all the House seats. I don't even remember offhand when the last time that happened,” Zeldin said. “And the electorate is not happy with what they're seeing coming out of the city.”