Republican Life Found in New YorkBy ROBERT COSTA
Wall Street Journal
November 6, 2010
At the top of the ticket, New York Republicans were trounced on Tuesday. Baseball bat-wielding Carl Paladino was thumped by Democrat Andrew Cuomo in the gubernatorial race, and GOP challengers to Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand suffered similar double-digit drubbings. But upstate and down ballot, Republicans are seeing reason for hope.
As rain splatters the windows of Dean Skelos's third-floor office in the State Capitol, the 62-year-old Senate minority leader tells me that Republicans are noticeably rising, despite his party's missteps and the Democrats' almost 2-to-1 voter registration edge in the state.
"The message was there, but the delivery was wrong," Mr. Skelos says, shaking his head at the mention of Mr. Paladino. "He hurt us in places. But with the congressional races and the state Senate, we were able to show that the party can be competitive again—that we are capable of bringing in new ideas and people."
Going into the election, Republicans occupied only a pair of the state's 29 seats in the U.S. House: Rep. Peter King on Long Island and Rep. Christopher Lee in western New York. By late Tuesday, New Yorkers welcomed at least five new Republicans to its congressional roster, the same number of GOP additions seen in swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.
In the Hudson Valley, retired Army Col. Chris Gibson and ophthalmologist Nan Hayworth topped incumbent Democrats. Businessman Richard Hanna did the same in sprawling central New York, where he ousted two-term Rep. Michael Arcuri. Other GOP pick-ups include Michael Grimm on Staten Island and Tom Reed in the Southern Tier, who won election to an open seat.
Outside Syracuse in the 25th District, Democratic Rep. Dan Maffei currently trails Republican Ann Marie Buerkle by a few hundred votes. But absentee ballots are still being counted, and a final tally is days away. Mr. Skelos, for his part, is poised to take control of the state's upper chamber, a boon for Republicans in the upcoming redistricting battle.
Is the state GOP putting too much stock in these victories? Manhattan Institute fellow Fred Siegel thinks so. "They're nothing but seats once lost to folly which snapped back," he says. "The candidates floated upon the national current, and there were many, many missed opportunities."
In the Hamptons, for example, four-term Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop managed to eke out a narrow victory. Elsewhere on Long Island, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, a fellow Democrat, did the same. Rep. Bill Owens, a conservative Democrat in the Adirondack region, held on against a Republican and a Conservative Party insurgent. All of these seats, Mr. Siegel argues, could have turned red if the state party had been a step above dysfunctional.
Others point out that if the party was ever going to take the governor's mansion or a Senate seat, this was the year. Instead, the party mangled its gubernatorial nod and nominated under-funded pols for the Senate. Wary of Mr. Cuomo's appeal, Republican grandees maneuvered in March to nominate Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, a Democrat (really). GOP delegates rejected Mr. Levy at the state convention in June and threw their support behind Rick Lazio, a former congressman. Mr. Lazio fizzled with tea party activists, who promptly nominated Mr. Paladino in September.
Yet State Republican Chairman Edward Cox stands by his record. "Look, if Ann Marie Buerkle ends up winning, that'll be six seats picked up," he tells me. "We're building things from the ground up. We saw the wave coming all along, but only some of the water splashed over the dike. It just shows you how tough it can be to win in blue states."
Long Island Rep. King, who was elected to his 10th term this week, disagrees. "Our state apparatus was disorganized this year," he says. But he believes there is potential for his party, particularly in suburbs near Rochester, Utica and even the Big Apple, where he sees "21st-century Reagan Democrats emerging. The people outside of New York City are increasingly center-right on fiscal issues and terrorism and uncomfortable with the Obama agenda."
New York-based GOP pollster John McLaughlin points out that winning over these voters will be the key to any future success. "The independents remain the blanks," Mr. McLaughlin explains. "In New York, independents are maverick voters concerned about jobs and taxes. . . . Republicans will need to find a way to not only combat what's going on in Washington, but to tie those efforts into addressing New York's oppressive state taxes and, relatedly, its hemorrhaging of middle-class voters, who are migrating at an astounding rate."
Throughout the Northeast, states with similar economic woes gave Republicans quiet victories. In New Hampshire, the GOP picked up two House seats and a U.S. Senate seat. In New Jersey, Republican Jon Runyan, a former NFL lineman, knocked off Rep. John Adler. Pennsylvania boosted Republicans as well, electing Tom Corbett as governor and sending Pat Toomey to the Senate.
Can these modest gains be sustained? Rudy Giuliani believes they can—but only if the newly elected Republicans remember why they won. "They were elected not on personality but for their ideas," he says. A disciplined focus on growth, he continues, is what will keep them in office.
Anything else will be a distraction for a regional electorate uninterested in Beltway posturing. "It reminds me of how I got elected mayor," Mr. Giuliani says. "I got elected for one main reason: to reduce crime. My slogan was, 'I can't do any worse.' If it weren't for the high crime rates and the tremendous murder rates, I never would have been elected in a Democratic city. These candidates are getting elected because people believe that the federal government is out of control. They ought to remember that. I think they will."
Mr. Costa is a political reporter for National Review.