On paper, these should be the best of times for Democrats in New York’s state Senate.
They’re running under the same banner as Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose poll numbers are sky-high. They are within striking distance of gaining a majority, with Republicans holding an apparently fragile 33-29 majority.
Flip two seats and they’re tied. Flip three and Dems are in the driver’s seat. That goal seems even more tantalizingly close after veteran Long Island Republican Owen Johnson announced his resignation.
A poll by the Siena Research Institute this week found that a whopping 54% of New Yorkers want the Democrats to control the Senate (compared with 38% who want the GOP to hold their majority).
Sounds like fertile ground for November, right?
But New York’s Senate Democrats have a long-established reputation for haplessness. In 2008, when they briefly grabbed control of the majority after a four-decade drought, their caucus quickly fell into disarray.
They then lost the majority just in time for the redistricting process. Not surprisingly, the new Senate maps drawn this year locked in the gerrymandered structure that makes it much, much more difficult for Democrats to compete.
Adding insult (almost literally) to injury, Gov. Cuomo has since distanced himself from his own party’s leadership, making it clear that he won’t endorse Democrats in Senate races if thinks the Republicans are better qualified.
Cuomo even joked about appointing Senate GOP leader Dean Skelos to head the Democratic Party. “A Republican chair, that would be interesting,” Cuomo pretended to muse. “Are you interested?”
Perhaps most significantly, the GOP has opened what the Associated Press is calling “a big money advantage in the heated race for control of New York state’s Senate.”
According to the AP, Republicans go into the fall campaign with $4.49 million on hand, compared to just $750,000 for Democrats.
But even if Democrats do find a message that pushes them over the top, they’ll have to find a way to bring home wandering members.
Four Democratic senators have formed what they’re calling the Independent Democratic Congress, who often vote with Republican lawmakers.
Can Senate minority leader John Sampson, from Brooklyn, pull all those threads together over the next few months? He got off to a rocky start this summer, when he crashed his state-owned car.
“A cat or something ran out in front of me, and I swerved to miss it, and I got into an accident,” he told the [New York] Post after arriving at his apartment last night.
No one was injured, thank goodness. As a metaphor for the Senate Democrats’ fortunes in recent years? Not too shabby.