Republicans hopeful about winning control of state Senate

Oct 10, 2014

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.

“The Republicans have had double-digit leads in all five races that we looked at,” says Siena College spokesman Steve Greenberg, whose college conducted the voter surveys.

Those races 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 nearly two-to-one, have some advantages in non-presidential election years because fewer Democrats come out to vote.

Sen. John DeFrancisco, a Republican from Syracuse and chairman 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.  

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has often touted his ability to work in a bi-partisan 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 New York State Business Council, in part for his success in working with the GOP to cut 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.

DeFrancisco says Cuomo, a moderate Democrat, might have an easier time getting along with Republicans in the Senate, rather than with a chamber controlled by Democrats who might want to go further than the governor when it comes to 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 Gov. Cuomo and he opened up, I’ll bet ten-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 2013 with a group of breakaway Democrats, known as the Independent Democratic Conference. IDC Leader Sen. Jeff Klein, has 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.”

DeFrancisco says Klein is wise to keep his options open.

“If its 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 Republicans.

“It’s easy to justify,” he said.

Republicans might not even need Klein and the Independent Democrats if the current poll numbers hold on Election Day. 32 seats are needed to reach a majority, and surveys show the GOP could attain that number.

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

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

“Campaigns do matter,” he said.