The primaries are over and the people have spoken. But what the hell did they mean? This election season is full of turbulence, roiled by anti-incumbent fervor and political ambition. Is there any significance to these results? If politics is local, what are we to make of national trends? Weighing in this week are Lawrence C. Levy, executive director for the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, Press Senior Editor Spencer Rumsey and News Editor Timothy Bolger.
This was a bad night for the state and local Republican parties. I know that may seem counter-intuitive—it’s certainly not what most of the talking heads have been saying. But a victory in this state by a right-wing candidate for governor, Carl Paladino, who may not have the experience or inclination to veer back to the middle, makes it even harder for the party to take on Andrew Cuomo. Republicans don’t win statewide in Blue New York without being able to appeal to suburban moderates and some Democrats. That formula won’t change because a small faction of conservative voters—the Tea Party people—managed to hijack the election by energizing their angry base. And no Republican has ever won statewide without having the Conservative party line. Paladino doesn’t have it, as the vanquished Rick Lazio still will appear on the ballot. (It’s likely he will still be on it even if he doesn’t campaign.) And Paladino won’t be able to change the R-C formula for success either. He doesn’t have the experience, or the money (the $10 million of his own money he says he will spend is chump change in a state race, especially against a guy capable of raising $50 million, and Paladino won’t get much national money because nobody believes he can win). So if I’m Andrew Cuomo, I’m the guy who is popping champagne corks. It was the worst of nights for state GOP chair Ed Cox. His candidate lost, his son lost in Brookhaven congeressional primary, engendering bad blood at the local level.
Chris Cox had the Tea Party support and his grandfather Richard Nixon’s White House legacy and came in third to Randy Altschuler, who had the Conservative line. But all the post-election stuff today is about the Tea Party’s “success” nationwide, particularly in my home state of Delaware. Does the Tea Party’s reach ripple through Long Island?
Tea Party crashing aside, my favorite part of last night was how Long Island went into the primaries with five statewide candidates but the rest of New York said “no thanks” to all of them. Is this payback for all those threats to secede from the state? As for those waving the Don’t Tread on Me flags, I think last night was proof that they are indeed a force to be reckoned with. In the words of a near-tears Lazio supporter I overheard last night shortly prior to his concession speech: “This Tea Party is killing us.”
The Brookhaven primary was a very local affair in which national or state trends, including the Tea Party insurgency, played minor roles. The Tea Party is good news in very Republican areas that have been trending Democratic and may help the party take back a couple of congressional seats it never should have lost to Democrats. But the Tea Party people are fairly unattractive to moderates who will decide close statewide elections. The success, in NY and nationwide, is illusory or pyrrhic. It is an intrasquad Republican win that weakens the team for the big game in November. Look at Delaware… Christine O’Donnell may have excited Sarah Palin and the ultra right, but is way too conservative socially and fiscally to play in Blue Delaware. Just like Paladino is too Red for NY.
I wish we could have seen Rick Lazio debate Sarah Palin. She’d chew his ears off and he’d bore her to death. But so be it. I doubt we’ll see Palin campaigning for Paladino upstate because that news would get around fast, to his detriment and Andrew Cuomo’s benefit because New York’s moderates and Democrats will take notice. And hasn’t Paladino given thousands of dollars to Democrats, too? He’s played both sides of the street for years. The biggest change in Albany was set in motion last night when voters resoundingly threw out Pedro Espada Jr. and Hiram Monserrate. Those two jokers shut our state down when we needed our government to function for the good of the people.
Yes, Spencer, we all should thank Bronx voters for finally doing what Albany couldn’t and get rid of Espada. But back to the Tea Party: It seems to me that the much-hyped anti-incumbent fervor went beyond those on the right. Case in point: Ginny Fields losing the Democratic nomination to political newcomer Ken Mangan. Granted, Fields will still be on the ballot on the Working Families and Independence lines and still has a fighting chance. But it does appear that there may be some truth to the rumors that this year we will see an end to the 97-percent re-election rate for New York State legislators. It’s about time.