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Republicans Optimistic About New York State Senate Takeover

The New York State capitol in Albany
Dave Lucas

Recent polls show Republican candidates for State Senate in New York are ahead of their Democratic opponents, offering the GOP new hope that they can retain some control of the Senate chamber in January.

Polls conducted in five battleground Senate races show Republican candidates ahead of their Democratic opponents, even when the Democrat is an incumbent. If they were to win all five seats, they would likely gain control of the State Senate in January. Steve Greenberg is a spokesman for Siena College, which conducted the voter surveys.

“The Republicans have had double digit leads in all five races that we looked at,” Greenberg said.

Those seats include two seats on Long Island, one open and one held by a Republican incumbent, and three upstate seats in the Hudson Valley, Capital Region, and Rochester area held by first-term Democrats.  

Greenberg says Republicans, who are outnumbered in the state by nearly two to one, have some advantages in non-presidential election years, because fewer Democrats come out to vote.

Senator John De Francisco, a Republican from Syracuse who holds the powerful post of Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, says he’s not surprised that the GOP is doing well in the campaigns. The governor’s office and the State Assembly are already held by Democrats, with the majority from New York City. He says most New Yorkers don’t really want all three to be in the hands of the same party.

“It gives some kind of balance with Long Island and upstate,” DeFrancisco said.  

Governor Cuomo has often touted his ability to work in a bipartisan manner with Senate Republicans, but he has said he will work to get more Democrats elected to the Senate this time. The governor made that pledge under pressure from the left-leaning Working Families Party, in exchange for an endorsement.

Cuomo also received the backing of the state’s Business Council for in part, his success in working with GOP on cutting taxes and spending, but the governor says he intends to keep his promise to promote Democratic candidates for Senate.

“I am and we will,” said Cuomo. “A lot of our campaign materials we’re doing together to help Democratic candidates.”

The state Democratic Party, which is run by Cuomo, has sent numerous mailers to voters in swing Senate districts, advocating for the Democratic candidate.

Senator DeFrancisco says Cuomo, a moderate Democrat, might have an easier time getting along with Republicans in the Senate, than with a chamber controlled by Democrats who might want to go further than the governor on raising the minimum wage, raising taxes on the wealthy, banning hydrofracking and other issues.   

“I bet if there was a quiet moment, and you had a glass of wine with Governor Cuomo and he opened up, I’ll bet 10 to one he’d be much more comfortable being able to stay in the middle on some of these issues with a Republican or a coalition government,” DeFrancisco said.

The Republicans lost the majority of seats in the Senate two years ago, but they have co-ruled the Senate since January of 2013 with a group of breakaway Democrats, known as the Independent Democratic Conference. IDC Leader, Senator Jeff Klein, has, like Cuomo, also been under pressure from the left leaning elements of the Democratic Party. Klein, facing a primary from a Working Families Party endorsed candidate, promised to reunite in a coalition with the Democrats after the November elections, leaving the Republicans out of power.

But Klein did not completely rule out another union with the GOP. In an interview earlier this year, he credited the Republicans for a number of achievements over the past two years.  

“Alliance or not I do believe in the concept of bi partisan governing,” Klein said in an interview last summer. “We’re never going to get anything done unless we work together.”

Senator DeFrancisco says Klein is wise to keep his options open.

“If it's close, my guess would be that they’d reevaluate,” said DeFrancisco, who predicts the Independent Democrats would conclude they could serve their constituents better by allying with the Republican.

“It’s easy to justify,” he said.

Republicans might not even need Senator Klein and the Independent Democrats if the current poll numbers hold on Election Day. Thirty-two seats are needed to reach the majority, and the surveys show the GOP could attain that number.

Senate Democrats, who hope to regain the Senate, say the races are just beginning to gear up and it’s too early to rush to judgment.

Greenberg, with Siena College polls agrees that it’s a mistake to declare the races over.

“Campaigns do matter,” he said.

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