Maloney’s defeat was not an anomaly: two other Democratic House seats on Long Island were flipped. Governor Kathy Hochul scored a single-digit victory after raising some $50 million and securing GOTV weekend appearances from former President Bill Clinton and President Joe Biden. And the Democratic supermajority in the state Senate, achieved two years ago, remains in limbo.
On Wednesday morning, blame swirled as New York Democrats relied on results below their worst fears but loosened their grip on political power at all levels. Republicans, battling expectations across the country, outperformed in one of the nation’s bluest states.
Polls showing a steady rise in crime — and a general sense of disorder — dominated the minds of voters in New York, but many centrist Democrats struggled to articulate a plan on the issue. As Republicans hammered away, describing the state as a chaotic hellscape, Democrats argued over whether to acknowledge it.
Center-left politicians insisted that Republicans, moderate Democratic Mayor Eric Adams and the media were fearmongering instead of focusing on economic insecurity. Centrist Democrats countered that their progressive critics were out of touch with most voters.
“We didn’t send adequate messages about the crime,” returning Rep. Jerry Nadler said in an interview Tuesday night from Hochul’s Manhattan Victory Party. “The Republican mantra is that crime is rising in Democratic cities. The fact is that crime is increasing all over the country – suburbs, cities, rural areas.
Underscoring the infighting within the party — a contrast to the uniformity among Republicans in New York — left-leaning Democrats vehemently disagreed with Nadler.
“The criminal panic was a cynical right-wing ploy, much like the migrant caravans they invent every election cycle,” progressive strategist Gabe Tobias said in an interview. “I think the Democrats who bought into the scheme suffered from it. Those who won focused on economic justice and abortion rights.
He pointed to Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman’s win over Mehmet Oz for the US Senate as evidence of a successful candidate who paid more attention to the economy than stoking fears about crime . But in New York — where a debate has simmered over whether the crime is real or perceived — public safety has been buzzing with voters of both parties. It was the issue that propelled Adams, a former police captain with deep support among black voters, to victory in the mayoral race last year.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Hochul only led GOP opponent Lee Zeldin by 5.6 points, the closest margin of victory of any New York gubernatorial race since 1994. Republican Nicole Malliotakis defeated her Democratic opponent Max Rose. And the state’s congressional delegation ceded three Democratic seats to Republicans, who ran with an almost singular focus on fighting crime.
“Kathy Hochul spent $50 million to win by 5 points,” said Jonathan Greenspun, a former Republican political strategist who worked for former Mayor Mike Bloomberg, referring to the incumbent’s fundraising. “While a win is always a win, you can’t just rest on your laurels here and say, ‘Let’s just continue to do business as usual’, because it’s clear that the vast majority of the electorate not going to accept this. ”
The seeds for Tuesday’s poor performance were sown in February, when state Democrats released a redistricting plan that would swing at least three congressional seats from red to blue. Now the opposite is happening.
The lines so blatantly favored the Democrats that they were thrown out by a judge and replaced with districts drawn by a special master with little regard for office. Nadler, for example, had to defeat another party stalwart in a primary before claiming his seat in Manhattan on Tuesday. And Maloney chose to run in a neighborhood where former Rep. Mondaire Jones lived, forcing the freshman lawmaker to mount a quixotic bid in New York where he neither lived nor had a base.
“I keep thinking about the old adage: pigs get fat, pigs get slaughtered,” said Democratic strategist Peter Kauffmann, who worked for former Governor Andrew Cuomo and Hillary Clinton and called the redistricting process in New York of national embarrassment. “There was a way to draw those lines to make more Democratic seats and withstand a legal challenge. By overtaking, we will now lose two or three more seats than necessary. »
Democrats’ problems with crime messaging were apparent on Long Island, where Republicans flipped two congressional seats. Republican George Santos won the 3rd Congressional District, which voted for Biden by a double-digit margin in 2020. Jill Biden had campaigned for Democratic nominee Robert Zimmerman days prior. And Republican Anthony D’Esposito beat Democrat Laura Gillen in the competitive 4th District that spans the south shore of Nassau County.
“We knew Nassau and Suffolk counties were going to be a big deal. And they turned out to be a big deal,” said Michael Mulgrew, head of New York’s influential teachers’ union. “I think that [voters] say: until New York gets back on its feet, you’re going to see a lot of anger, a lot of frustration, especially in the suburbs, as well as in New York and you know? It’s valid.
And in South Brooklyn, an area that has increasingly become a partisan battleground, a slate of incumbent state lawmakers were on the verge of being ousted by GOP newcomers. The result threatens the supermajority of state Democrats in Albany.
“Public safety was an issue here, but there was no counter narrative,” said Sen. Andrew Gounardes, a Democrat who easily won his district while his colleagues around him fell to Republicans. . “There was no Democratic message on public safety to blunt the attacks or pivot or move on to anything that mattered to voters.”
New York Republicans said the single-digit gap between Zeldin and Hochul should serve as a wake-up call.
Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess County executive who was declared the winner of an upstate New York seat, pointed to the GOP’s focus on crime, which topped many polls like a major concern among voters. “New Yorkers want a government that respects them and a government that protects them,” he said in an interview Wednesday.
And in his concession on Wednesday, Zeldin said the race was a “once-in-a-generation campaign, with a very narrow margin in the bluest of blue states.”
“Those in control of Albany should take note,” he added.
Anna Gronewold and Danielle Muoio Dunn contributed to this report.