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Thu, 27 Oct 2022 09:45
As Democratic Party leaders assessed their vulnerabilities in this year’s midterm elections, the one state they did not worry about was New York. That — it turns out — was a mistake. Despite being a blue state through and through, and a place President Donald J. Trump lost by 23 points two years ago, the red tide of this moment is lapping at New York’s shores. Why is New York up for grabs? Guest: Nicholas Fandos, a Metro reporter for The New York Times.
From New York Times, I'm Michael Abarro. This is the Daily. Today, as Democratic Party leaders assessed their vulnerabilities in this year's midterm elections, the one state they did not worry about was New York. That, it turns out, was a mistake. My colleague, Nick Fando's, on Why New York, is suddenly up for grabs. It's Thursday, October 27th. So, Nick, we have been talking on the daily about the dawning realization that Republicans are doing better and better in the run up to these midterm elections that they had been and Democrats are, so result doing worse. But I think it's safe to say that nobody expected the Republican resurgence over the past few weeks to occur here in New York. The entire New York state government right now is Democratic. Governor, both parts of a legislature here in New York City mayor. It's a blue state through and through. And yet, you're finding that the red tide of this moment is kind of lapping up against New York shores. So, tell us about that. Yeah, it's pretty remarkable. Donald Trump just two years ago lost New York by 23 points, Biden won by 23 points. It's been 20 years since New York elected a Republican governor. It's been a long time since Republicans had much of a foothold in Albany. And yet here we are just two weeks before election day, as you say, and races all across the state, including for governor, have gotten way too close for Democrats' comfort. Well, let's start with that governor's race. So, I think to tell the story, we've got to go back a little bit more than a year when Andrew Cuomo, the then popular and quite well known, domineering governor of New York, runs full on into a sexual harassment scandal. And ends up having to resign in August of 2021. And that elevates his lieutenant governor, Kathy Hocal. I have to go back to New York. I have to go back to New York. Who is not particularly well known is really frankly. I don't think any of us really had heard much about her at all. No, she's an accidental governor in a way. And she has a really difficult task upon taking off. She basically has to learn how to become governor and start running for re-election simultaneously. And so she does something that I think nobody quite saw coming. She goes out and races just a ridiculously large amount of money. Tens of millions of dollars over the course of just a few months. She puts together a very impressive campaign team. She scares better known rivals, build a blasio, leticia james out of the race. And by the time we get to the Democratic primary this past June, she basically walks over the competition and appears to be the dominant political force in the state of New York. And as the frame starts to turn to the general election, that theme becomes even more so because her opponent, her Republican opponent, Lee Zeldin, who's a conservative congressman from Long Island doesn't seem like he'll be a plausible threat. And why is that? This is a guy who racked up not only quite a conservative voting record in Washington, but he became one of the most visible and loyal allies of Donald Trump. A man who, what if any role do you think former president Trump played in the riot January of 2021? A president Trump told his supporters to go peacefully and patriotically to the Capitol. And in particular, Zeldin had helped amplify doubts about the 2020 election. Do you believe the continued claims by Donald Trump that the election was stolen from him? Listen, it's something that we'll never, you know, for sure know the exact consequence of ultimately culminating in a couple of votes on January 6th to overturn the results in two key swing states. So he was among those House Republicans who voted not to certify Joe Biden's victory. That's right, which in New York certainly looked at the time like a nonstarter. Now, remember at the same time the primaries here in New York actually wrapped up right after the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade. Congressman Lee Zeldin tweeted, quote, Today is a victory for life, for family, for the Constitution, and for federalism. And Zeldin celebrated that decision. He has a long record of anti-abortion votes. And Kathy Hoko was able to kind of step forward as a protector of abortion rights. Because as the first female governor of New York, I take this personally. I refuse to go backwards. And I promise you as long as I'm governor, we will not. And for most of the summer she puts that big campaign war chest to use. I'm not easily shaken, but I'm terrified Lee Zeldin could become governor. He supported abortion vans so cruel. And start attacking Zeldin pretty mercilessly for his voting record in Washington for his ties to Donald Trump. Lee Zeldin is dangerous and too extreme for New York. And this whole mix of issues, abortion and Trump and New York's democratic lean, all made it look like this was basically going to be a cakewalk for the new Democratic governor. And that's where we are as we head into this fall. But what Hoko's campaign seems not to have seen at first is that while she is spending millions of dollars on TV and spending her time talking about how Lee Zeldin's two extreme and his records going to pull him down, the mood of the electorate is starting to shift. And issues that had seemed dominant over the summer, not only in New York, but around the country, a woman's right to choose the Trump presidency's threat to American democracy, start to be eclipsed by issues like cost of living and particularly fear about crime. Right, we talk about this a lot on the show issues favorable to Democrats over the summer, like abortion have been supplanted pretty dramatically by issues favorable to Republicans like crime. Yeah, absolutely. And in New York that has played right into the hands of Lee Zeldin, whose campaign from the start has been focused on crime. Now, you've got to pause for a second, I think, and say that crime is a complicated picture in New York. Certain categories of crime have certainly gone up since the pandemic. Others have been a bit flatter. But there have unquestionably been these high profile incidents. A guy on his way to brunch on a Sunday morning shot and killed on a subway car going into Manhattan. A shooting in Times Square. A shooting in Times Square. Exactly. And his created a sense of fear among a lot of New Yorkers in Zeldin is kind of speaking to it directly. We can recap the amount of crime from the last week. And you'd think that we're recapping the amount of crime around this state over the course of the last year. You know, at one point in the campaign, there was actually a shooting outside his own home on suburban Long Island in October. His daughters were home doing homework and gunfire erupted outside. They called him while he was out on the campaign trail. You know, no one ended up dying, but it allowed Zeldin to argue that there was literally a trail of blood leading to his own front door. Now I have to walk through crime scene tape in order to show up at my own front doorstep yesterday. This is getting worse every single day and the people in charge are not only not doing squat about it. They don't even want to talk about it. And more than just that, he has been very particular about blaming the Democrats and Governor Hocal for not only this rise, but not confronting it more aggressively. And how does he blame them? So in New York shortly before the pandemic, the Democratic legislature and this predates Hocal's governorship, passed a set of changes to the state's bail laws that basically were designed to try and make the system fairer, particularly for black and brown people who were being held on bail for small, petty crime and adversely affected by that. What he says is the consequence is that people who are charged are being let out under the street at much too rapid rate and then going on to commit additional crimes, basically a small number of people are making New York much less safe. Now the data is actually quite complicated on this. There are experts that have looked at it and drawn kind of different conclusions, but wrapping that together with a sense of fear and frankly hammering that message home for months over and over and over as Hocal was not really talking about it, or talking about it in a much more kind of nuanced, hard to digest way appears to be working for Zeldin. This race, which was once a 18, 20, 22 point lead for Hocal, has now narrowed considerably into a set of polls in the last couple of weeks that have shown her just ahead by eight, six in one case, even just four points, which is far closer than we have seen in a statewide election in New York, particularly for Governor in decades. And Nick, where has Governor Hocal support been eroding geographically and where has Zeldin support been growing? So, Zeldin's base of support has always been in the suburbs. That's where he's from. That's where his kind of view point seems to be. And that's where he is gaining the most ground and Hocal seems to be losing the most ground. You know, I'm talking about Long Island, I'm talking about Westchester, the suburbs of Buffalo, and to a lesser extent Albany in the Hudson Valley. We have seen her numbers there, we can inconsiderably over the last couple of weeks. At the same time, though, in interesting ways, we have also seen signs that Zeldin is picking up support in the city, particularly among Asian American and Orthodox Jewish voters who have been the victims of high-profile hate crimes, who may have other concerns about the Democratic Party and the National Democrats. And that's really important because even though Hocal will win the city by a significant margin, whatever happens. There's a big difference between if she totally crushes it, you know, 70-80% of the vote. And if she wins 60-65% of the vote is such a big sink of votes. It's the thing that is normally the blue firewall for Democrats that he can knock a few kind of key holes in it. It could be the way to win in losing. Exactly. So the story that your governor's raised so far is that basically Hocal was running a kind of predictable post-rovy-weight campaign. And that race changed. And it became about crime primarily. And she didn't really change with it. Yeah. And I think the thing that confirms that is that in just the last few days, as her campaign and Democrats have watched polls come in, showing the race tightening, showing voters, mood shifting, we have started to see her pivot pretty hard toward the crime issue. A safe walk home at night, a subway ride, free of fear. That's what Kathy Hocal is working for as governor. And so she's racing to try and basically reorient her message around public safety. She put out a new ad this week that she's spending millions of dollars on. You deserve to feel safe. As your governor, I won't stop working until you do. Basically, the premise of which is you deserve to be safe. She's going and pulling whatever she can from her record to show. Look, I'm fighting the proliferation of guns. I put cameras on the subways. Whatever she needs to do to try and show. I'm taking this issue seriously. I have plans to address it. But the net effect, I think, is that in the closing weeks of this race, the debate is really taking place on the kind of ground that Zelda and staked out months ago. And that's an uncomfortable place for Democrats to be. Right. And all of a sudden, this race is potentially winnable for a Republican in this very deeply state. Right, which remains remarkable. Michael, I mean, you know, Democrats outnumber Republicans in New York, two to one. That may end up being Kathy Hocal's saving grace. She may kind of have lost on all of the issues been out maneuvered by Zelda and she could still win. But even if that's the case, if she sneaks by, this all matters in a big way because there are a lot of races happening down the ballot from her. And particularly important congressional races that could help determine control of the House of Representatives. And if the governor of New York at the top of the ticket is only winning statewide by a hundred percentage points by a hair, those races have the potential to become a real bloodbath for Democrats and compound on the national stage, giving rise to not only the Republican resurgence in New York, but in Washington as well. We'll be right back. So Nick, tell us about these congressional races in New York, which as you said are lower down the ballot than the governor's race and why Republicans seem to be so well positioned to win so many of those. This I think isn't even more fascinating story and it's got its own twist. So Democrats actually came into these midterms thinking that New York was going to be one of the brightest spots on the map for them. The state, like a bunch of other ones across the country, needed to redraw the boundaries of congressional districts and Democrats had total control in New York and figured we can draw these lines in a way that not only will we not lose seats, even if it's a bad environment, but we could pick up seats, two seats, three seats, maybe even four seats by Jerry Mandarin. Yes, and in doing so, basically build higher a blue wall that could help them protect the house nationally, a kind of down payment against Jerry Mandarin and red states. That's not how it turned out. How did it turn out? For Democrats? Terribly. Republicans sued, the case went to the state's highest court, which is stacked with Democrats, and they ruled that the Democratic maps were a Jerry Mander. Tossed them out, decided to draw their own lines, and ended up putting in place a map that was much more neutral, which meant worse for Democrats. Right. So instead of Democrats picking up a handful of seats, we're now talking about nine or ten competitive districts across the state. In particular, five Democratic seats that are now being hotly contested and could easily flip to the Republicans. And that matters because, remember, Republicans just need five seats in the entire country to win back house majority. It could happen right here in New York. That is remarkable. The United States House of Representatives could flip based just on what happens in New York because Democrats overshot in their efforts to re-draw congressional districts. And now are stuck with districts that are much harder to hold precisely. And I have to assume that the same forces at play in the governor's race, which we talked about in the first half of this show, you know, the replacement of issues like abortion with crime are also at play in these congressional races. Totally. Democrats had basically entered these races, many of which are playing out in the suburbs of Long Island, Westchester County, the Hudson Valley, thinking that like the governor abortion concerns about extremism and threats to democracy in Washington. And Democrats record, frankly, over the last couple of years would be strong enough to defend these seats and would be the things that would be motivating voters in the fall. And instead, in race after race, what we've seen is that Republicans seem to be taking over the terms of the arguments. They're pounding Democrats on crime and on inflation. And when Democrats control everything in DC and everything in New York, they're finding a pretty receptive audience in voters. And is there a particular house race in New York that really typifies this dynamic? There's so many good ones, but I think you have to zoom in on New York 17, which is the suburbs of Westchester and the lower Hudson Valley, where a Democratic congressman, Sean Patrick Maloney, is it real risk of losing his seat to a Republican, Mike Lawler. The issues here are really fascinating, but I think what makes it an even bigger deal is that not only is Sean Patrick Maloney, you know, a middle of the road, Democrat, trying to run in a seat that President Biden just a few years ago, one by ten points. But he's also the guy who is leading the Democratic Congressional campaign committee. That's the group out of Washington that is in charge of protecting Democrats' house majority across the country. So he is kind of the face of the effort to keep the house. And here he is in the final weeks of the campaign, increasingly fighting for his own political life. House out. His opponent is attacking him in many of the same ways that Lee Zeldin is going after Hocal, but Maloney has a very specific set of baggage. She ran for Attorney General of New York just a few years ago. And during a debate in that contest, do you believe in ending cash bail, Mr. Maloney? Absolutely. And I'd make it the top priority. Pretty clearly, you know, put himself behind bail reform. He said it would be one of his top priorities if he was elected to be the top law enforcement official in New York. And now just a few years later in a very different environment. Listen to Sean Maloney admit he supports cashless bail. Do you believe in ending cash bail, Mr. Maloney? Absolutely. And I'd make it the top priority. That comment is being played over and over and over in ads running across the district. And do you still think it's a good idea? What I think is a good idea is that a poor guy shouldn't be in jail when a rich one gets out. Maloney is, you know, trying to find ways to explain it. Somebody shouldn't be sitting jail for years and years who's not dangerous just because they're poor. But what voters are getting is like this guy is associated with the thing that Republicans say is causing all this trouble around crime. Right. So we have a direct echo of the same issue in the governor's race in this congressional race. And from what you're saying, it seems to be as in the governor's race working well for the Republican. Yes. And like in the governor's race, Sean Patrick Maloney now kind of at the 11th hour is pivoting and put up his own ad talking about crime is trying to go on the offensive on this very issue. You know, again, basically shifting onto an issue set that Democrats did not want to find themselves talking about just two weeks before election day. And that really is the story of all five of these congressional districts in New York that are currently held by Democrats that the party fears could legitimately one by one fall to the Republicans and help them build their majority in Washington. Right. So Nick, everything we're talking about here makes me wonder, especially as a former New York political reporter, if our classic understanding of New York. Plotically speaking, as such a reliable source of strength for Democrats is a little flawed. And I don't know if it would ever be appropriate to think of New York as a purple state or a swing state, but if a state like New York can swing control of Congress, then what exactly are we? I think it's a fascinating question. You know, we tend to sort states by how they vote in presidential elections. And in that regard, I don't think there is any question that in 2024, New York is going to be a safely democratic state. But it's also I think always had more complicated politics than many people understand. In part because, you know, New York is represented by New York City, which is this big liberal bastion. And when people come out and vote in New York City, it makes it very hard for a Democrat to lose statewide. But it's a big state. And there are regions on Long Island and the suburbs of state, certainly Western New York, which is more like the Midwest, frankly, the New York City, where Republicans have a long track record of winning power and exercising it. What we're seeing in this year is that those regions are more excited to turn out and are becoming redder and playing a bigger role in the election. And a place like New York City seems, you know, less engaged, frankly. And we may well find on election day that in fact those areas don't have enough power, say in the governor's race, to not Kathy Hocal out of office. But I think the fact that we're even talking about this, this close in a state like New York, not Michigan or Colorado or Nevada, classic swing states, but New York, New York. Right. New York is a testament to just how uniquely bad an environment this is for Democrats. And it shows, frankly, I think just how far, you know, a couple weeks out from election day, Republicans are pushing into turf that they have no business winning or at least haven't for quite a long time. On Nick, thank you very much. Thank you, Michael. It's going to be a crazy couple weeks. We'll be right back. Here's what else you need to know day on Wednesday, Russian president Vladimir Putin warned Russians without any evidence that Ukraine was preparing to use a so-called dirty bomb that contains radioactive materials. The warning alarmed Western officials because they have long feared that Putin would use such a manufactured threat as an excuse to unleash a nuclear weapon against Ukraine. If Russia were to use such a weapon, it would mark a turning point in the war and could invite a devastating response from Western powers, including the US. In Iran on Wednesday, thousands of demonstrators flocked to the gravesite of Masha Amini, who's arrest for allegedly violating the country's dress code and subsequent death in police custody, touched off nationwide protests, many of them led by women. Despite police warnings to stay away, demonstrators from across the country arrived at her gravesite by car, motorcycle, and on foot to mark the end of a 40-day period of mourning and to demand greater freedoms from the Iranian government. Today's episode was produced by Stella Tan and Sydney Harper. It was edited by MJ Davis-Lin, contains original music by Mary Ann Luzano and Dan Powell, and was engineered by Chris Wood. Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Lansford of Wonderly. That's it for daily. I'm Michael Bavaro. See you tomorrow.