Tuesday, February 19, 2008

As The North Country Goes. . .

So Goes The New York State Senate?

Will a special election for a vacated NYS Senate seat -- long held by a Republican -- foretell the outcome in November?

Will energized Democrats, as they have done in the presidential primary, turn out to vote in record numbers, while disenchanted Republicans, already outnumbered statewide, and losing ground district by district, stay home?

Will the cloud of possible indictment still hang over Majority Leader Joe Bruno's graying head, as the campaign to hold on to the Senate heats up?

And where does all of this leave Long Island's heretofore solidly GOP Senate delegation? Will they hold Long Island, only to be in the minority in Albany? Or will they, too, succumb to the undertow of a changing tide?

The Albany Times Union gives us some food for thought, as Dems look to wrestle control of the State Senate, while Republicans try to hold on for dear life.
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Struggle for Senate starts early
Republicans face stiff challenges this year for control of upper house

By IRENE JAY LIU, Capitol bureau

ALBANY -- If a race for one seat in the North Country is any indication, this year's battle for control of the state Senate will be a long, bitter fight across New York.

In next Tuesday's special election to succeed Watertown Republican James Wright, the two assemblymen vying for the seat have so far spent over $1.2 mostly from contributions by the state Republican and Democratic parties.

In what is poised to be the second-most expensive state Senate contest ever -- the most expensive state Senate election in history cost over $5 million -- Democrat Darrel Aubertine of Cape Vincent is opposed by Republican Will Barclay of Pulaski. Barclay's father, H. Douglas Barclay, represented the heavily GOP 48th District from 1965 to 1984. By last count, Republicans outnumber Democrats 78,454 to 46,824 with 34,665 unaffiliated voters.

Barclay and Aubertine each lead in different internal campaign polls, officials of each party say.
The stakes are high: Republicans hold a one-seat majority in the Senate since Wright, 59, retired after 15 years. By stepping down in January, he made sure that the special election would not take place on Super Tuesday when the presidential primary drew a huge Democratic turnout.

If the Democrats gain a majority in November, when every seat in the state Legislature is up for grabs, the party would control the Senate and the Assembly and the governor's, comptroller's and attorney general's offices, at least until 2010, when voters will once again decide on all those jobs.

Republicans have held the Senate majority for seven decades, except for an 11-month period in 1965. In recent years, the Democrats' statewide enrollment edge over Republicans has increased to 5.4 million voters to 3 million.
The tide is moving against Republican control of the Senate," said Douglas Muzzio, political science professor at Baruch College in Manhattan.

This year's presidential race will undoubtedly affect state and local campaigns. To what extent is unclear.

On Super Tuesday, when Hillary Rodham Clinton defeated Barack Obama by a 57-40 percent margin, nearly 1.8 million Democrats voted, 32 percent of the party's enrollment. For the GOP ballot, 20 percent voted.

"We saw record-breaking turnout across every demographic and geography," said state

Democratic Party spokesman Jonathan Rosen. The primary turnout bodes well for Democrats in November, he said.

While Rudolph Giuliani's departure from the race for president could lower GOP turnout in November, Republicans believe that having John McCain at the top of the ticket will help them maintain the state Senate majority, said GOP spokesman Matthew Walter.

Whatever coattails come with the presidential election, observers such as Muzzio said Senate races will be run, and won, on a local level.

"You've got septuagenarians and octogenarians running the Senate," Muzzio said. "They are in districts that are majority (Democratic) or trending that way."

Senate contests fitting this profile are heating up the earliest: Queens Republican Sens. Serphin Maltese and Frank Padavan already have Democratic contenders lining up.

In both those districts, Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2-1, and have for decades, yet both senators have held on term after term. Padavan easily won in 2006, but political newcomer Albert Baldeo came within 800 votes of beating Maltese.

A key part of the Republicans' strategy is to regain seats lost over the past two years. In Westchester, Republicans are seeking to oust Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who won a razor-thin victory in 2006 over nine-term incumbent Nick Spano.

On Long Island, Republicans plan to run hard against Sen. Craig Johnson, who replaced Republican Michael Balboni when he became Gov. Eliot Spitzer's homeland security chief.

Last year, with his approval ratings high, the governor angered Senate Republicans by injecting himself into Johnson's race.

Now, with his poll numbers down and his efforts to work better with the Legislature, Spitzer hasn't been involved publicly in next week's special election.

Statewide, Republican campaigns will focus on their opponents' voting records, in some cases faulting them for voting for last year's budget, which the GOP contends hurt local hospitals and schools. The party plans to focus on local needs, according to Walter. That strategy can favor incumbents with seniority and track records as well as the clout to sprinkle state money around their districts.

Walter said Stewart-Cousins and Johnson, among other Democrats, are being targeted because they "take positions that are out of step with their constituents' needs" like advocating for driver's licenses for illegal immigrants and "asking for (legislative) pay raises by shouting 'show me the money.' "

Muzzio advises GOP candidates to "go to their favorite house of worship and light candles ... and make these elections as local as possible. Talk about the power of the incumbent."

Irene Jay Liu can be reached at 518-454-5081 or by e-mail at iliu@timesunion.com.

3rd Distict
Incumbent: Caesar Trunzo, R-Brentwood
Challenger: Jimmy Dahroug
By the numbers: Democrat Dahroug has run against Trunzo twice before. Trunzo won in 2006 with 53 percent of the vote and Working Families Party support.

7th District
Incumbent: Craig Johnson, D-Port Washington
Challenger: None declared
By the numbers: Johnson won special election in February to replace Republican Michael Balboni, who become Gov. Eliot Spitzer's homeland security chief. Republicans have targeted this as a seat to reclaim.

11th District:
Incumbent: Frank Padavan, R-Bellerose
Challenger: City Councilman James Gennaro, D-Fresh Meadows, a member is widely expected to run.
By the numbers: Padavan, an 18-term incumbent, won with 56 percent of the in 2006, despite Democratic 83,950 to 32,360 enrollment edge.

15th District:
Incumbent: Serphin Maltese, R-Middle Village
Challenger: City Councilman Joseph Addabbo, D-Howard Beach, or Albert Baldeo.
By the numbers: Democrat Baldeo came within 800 votes of defeating Maltese in 2006.

23rd District:
Incumbent: Diane Savino, D-Staten Island
Challenger: None declared.
By the numbers: Savino had no opponent in this overwhelming Democratic district, but Republicans say they are targeting it.

34rd District:
Incumbent: Jeffrey Klein, D-Bronx
Challenger: None declared.
By the numbers: Two-term incumbent Klein won with 61 percent of the vote in 2006. Longtime GOP Sen. Guy Velella quit in 2004 after his bribery conviction.

35th District:
Incumbent: Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers
Challenger: Nicholas Spano is considering.
By the numbers: In 2006, Stewart-Cousins unseated Spano, 51-49 percent.

48th District:
Contenders: Democrat Darrel Aubertine and Republican Will Barclay running to replace James Wright, R-Watertown, in Feb. 26 special election
By the numbers: Win by Aubertine would erase the Republican's one-seat majority. Each party has contributed more than $600,000 in the campaign.

49th District:
Incumbent: David Valesky, D-Oneida
Challenger: None declared.
By the numbers: Enrollment is almost even, with 61,831 Democrats to 61,561 Republicans. Valesky beat Republican Jeff Brown in 2006, 59-41 percent.

56th District:
Incumbent: Joseph Robach, R-Greece
Challengers: Brighton Supervisor Sandra Frankel has entered the race. candidacy. Fellow Democrats Richard Dollinger and Willa Powell are mentioned as possible candidates.
By the numbers: Dollinger resigned as Brighton Town Justice for a possible run for the seat he held from 1993 to 2002. Robach beat Powell 66-34 percent in 2006. District enrollment is 76,225 Democrats and 45,123 Republicans.

All Times Union materials copyright 1996-2008, Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation, Albany, N.Y.

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