Short of the national environment failing to meet expectations, it might be safe to say that New York was the surprise of the midterms. In what can be described as the second-biggest wave of the night behind Florida, Republicans made significant gains in the legislature and Congress, pushed the Gubernatorial race to the closest statewide margin since 2010, and even managed to annihilate Chuck Schumer’s streak of landslide re-elections.
With high-profile Democrats now pushing for Jay Jacobs’s ouster as party chair and some Republicans pushing for Lee Zeldin to take a leadership role in the party, it’s clear that these results may have ramifications for years to come.
Zeldin gives best Republican performance since 2010
I’ll be the first to admit that Elections Daily was wrong to utterly discount this race. While I don’t dispute my own previous data analytics – which indicated just how improbable a Republican win could be – I do this we did miss the possibility that Zeldin could hit relatively close to the benchmarks. It’s worth noting, however, that even if Zeldin had hit 40% in New York City – the threshold I figured he would need to target in order to win, and one Republicans haven’t hit since 1972 – that still would not have been enough to win because his upstate and suburban performances simply weren’t enough to overpower the city. For this reason, I don’t think our rating of Safe Democratic was unfounded.
As it stands, Zeldin appears to have won just over 30% of the vote in New York City (a 14.1% shift right from 2020, and more than the 27% George Pataki needed to win in 1994), while carrying the city’s direct suburbs by 6.8% (a 17.7% shift right from 2020) and upstate proper by 9.4% (a 13.1% shift from 2020). Those are three very, very impressive performances on their own, and even more impressive in combination – and it still wasn’t enough to bring the state within five, let alone to win.
Now, what would it have taken for Zeldin to win? I’ve crafted three scenarios:
All three scenarios would be a very difficult climb for any Republican, which spells out the fundamental issue with the state – in order to win New York, you have to effectively win two unique areas as blue as Michigan (upstate) and New Mexico (suburbs), all while recording historic breakthroughs in a gigantic, diverse, and heavily Democratic city. It’s a tough climb, and Zeldin almost achieved it – but almost isn’t enough to win an election.
A Republican congressional wave
Perhaps the most striking result on Election Night wasn’t Zeldin’s performance, but instead the scope of Republican gains in the House of Representatives; Republicans flipped four congressional districts (NY-03 and NY-04 on Long Island, and NY-17 and NY-19 in the Hudson Valley), held NY-22 despite the retirement of John Katko, and substantially overperformed in two other high double-digit Biden seats (NY-20 in Albany and NY-25 in Rochester). The new crop of Republican Congressmen includes George Santos (likely the first openly gay Republican to be elected to Congress as a freshman) and Marc Molinaro, whose strong 2018 performance upstate in his own gubernatorial bid predated Zeldin’s improvements. The only Democratic survivor of this near-clean sweep of competitive seats, Pat Ryan, had previously won a special election earlier this year and could well have a strong future in state politics.
While the Republican overperformance upstate was seen as a real possibility (both sides regarded NY-25 as competitive, for example), a clean sweep of Long Island was seen as far less so. NY-03 reaches into portions of Queens (a borough Republicans haven’t had Congressional representation in since Bob Turner’s fluke win in a 2011 special election), while NY-04 voted for Joe Biden by 12 percentage points and is centered in the strongly Democratic town of Hempstead. In hindsight, however, these Republican wins were preceded in 2021 by sweeping gains in local elections in both Nassau and Suffolk counties.
Importantly, these gains account for the incoming Republican House Majority. Moreover, the 11-member Republican caucus is the largest the Empire State has seen since 2000, when 12 Republicans were elected. Crucially, this would not have been possible under the much-maligned “Hochulmander”, which was struck down earlier this year before being redrawn by a special master; as many as eight congressional districts could have had different results under the discarded map. On the other hand, if the proposed “super Jewish” seat in south Brooklyn had been drawn in south Brooklyn, it’s likely five new Republicans would have been elected, not four.
As a consequence of these gains, Republicans will certainly be playing defense in 2024. Soon-to-be former Hempstead Town Councilman Anthony D’Esposito of NY-04 will almost certainly be the most prominent target, and his seat will be a tough one for Republicans to hold, but the state’s propensity for ticket-splitting shouldn’t be discounted; it’s entirely possible that most of these new representatives hold on.
Republicans make legislative gains across the state
After crushing losses in the State Senate reduced the Republicans to supermajority status in 2018, the party lost its last grip on power in the state. Republican gains this cycle have erased a small amount of Democratic control – Republicans appear poised to break the Senate supermajority while having their best performance in the State Assembly since 2010.
Let’s start with the State Senate. Democrats appear set to lose at least two seats – enough to break the supermajority, which requires 42 seats. However, it could have been much, much worse, as six other Democratic-held State Senate districts are currently within 5%:
Republicans made gains across Long Island and Upstate, but failed to make much inway in the city; this is in large part due to the enormously popular Simcha Felder, a Democrat who represents a very conservative district in south Brooklyn, as well as due to two new reliably Democratic seats in the city that provided a counter to the broader statewide gains.
The State Assembly tells a different story; Republican gains are set to be concentrated almost entirely in New York City. Republicans currently lead in six districts between Staten Island and Brooklyn, as well as in an additional seat in Queens. The potential gain of seven seats (which could change somewhat – three Republican-led seats are within 1% right now, as is one Democratic-led seat) would be one short of breaking the supermajority, but the best performance for Republicans in the chamber since 2010, when they won 51 districts.
It’s worth noting that these lines are under court order to be changed for the 2024 elections, meaning that things could be substantially different in that cycle. Depending on how the state is drawn, this could open up additional opportunities in upstate and south Brooklyn.
Schumer wins by smallest margin since 1998
Since his 10.5 point victory over three-term Republican incumbent Al D’Amato in 1998, Chuck Schumer has been an institution in New York. In his three re-election bids in 2004, 2010, and 2016, Schumer won by resounding margins of 47%, 34%, and 43%, respectively. His 2016 re-election campaign was so strong that he won every congressional district in the state by double-digit margins. However, his status as Senate Majority Leader – the face of Senate Democrats – appears to have eroded his bipartisan support. At the time of writing this article, Schumer leads by just over 13% against Republican Joe Pinion – a political newcomer and the first Black candidate to be nominated for Senate in New York.
This underperformance is particularly striking, as in most other states, Senate candidates were not bogged down by the top of the ticket; for example, in Oklahoma, Republican Kevin Stitt’s 14-point win over Democrat Joy Hofmeister didn’t drag down Republicans in either of the two Senate contests. Schumer’s underperformance can be seen most easily in downstate, where he recorded the worst margins of his career in the Bronx (80.6%), Staten Island (36.2%), Suffolk (43.8%), and Queens (67.1%). Compared to 1998, however, he did do better in some of upstate’s most populous counties, including Monroe and Onondaga.