What’s the matter with New York? Why the Democrats keep losing here

What’s the matter with New York? Why the Democrats keep losing here

Across New York, last week’s Election Night was eerily similar to Election Night in 2022. While Democrats celebrated significant electoral successes across the country in unexpected places like Kentucky, they were flummoxed by the strong Republican showing in many parts of the Empire State.

Many Democrats are again left asking themselves, borrowing from Thomas Franks’ 2005 book “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” — What’s the Matter with New York?

Let us recap the divergent storylines that unfolded on Tuesday night:

  1. Democrats won the governorship again in Kentucky, while the Republicans picked up a City Council seat in the Bronx for the first time in 50 years;
  2. Democrats won a key Pennsylvania Supreme Court seat, while Republican and MAGA faithful Inna Vernikov was handily reelected to her Brooklyn City Council seat — despite her recent arraignment for bringing a handgun to a political rally.
  3. Democrats took full control of the Virginia legislature, while we watched Republican Ed Romaine beat Democrat Dave Calone in the election for Suffolk County executive — comfortably winning his race with 57% of the vote — fairing far better than Trump’s 2020 performance in the county where he only by the slimmest of margins (232 votes). Romaine is the first Republican to win the job in 20 years.
  4. Despite the national narrative that suggests it was a good night for Democrats, Republicans solidified control of all countywide seats in both Nassau and Suffolk counties: county executives, DAs, comptrollers, and all four congressional seats — something that hasn’t happened in more than  half a century.
  5. While New Jersey Democrats added to their legislative majority, former North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman failed to win back his former job losing his race by 10 points, and Republicans expanded their majority in the Nassau County legislature.

So, what’s going on in New York? Why the disconnect? We believe the answer is hiding in plain sight!

Recent Siena College polls from May, August, and October should have sent alarm bells going off for Democrats as the polls painted a picture of a very displeased New York electorate

  • The confluence of crime, quality of life, and the migrant crisis have made the New York electorate fearful, anxious, and on edge — and Democrats feel like way, as do Republican and independents;
  • The idea of candidates “out progressivizing” one another works well in Democratic primary elections in Park Slope, but these issue positions don’t play very well in places like suburban Long Island;
  • Inflation is taking a bite out of everyone’s paycheck and Democrats at the helm of the federal, state and local government are taking the blame;

As we look ahead to 2024, it’s clear that New York — the suburbs, the Hudson Valley, and upstate are the Ground Zero battlegrounds for Democrats to retake control of the U.S. House and make Hakeem Jeffries the speaker. How can Democrats regain competitiveness in New York?

From our perspective, here are four key to-dos:

  1. Demonstrate genuine empathy — Democrats must show understanding of the concerns of middle-class voters. Democrats are positioned too closely around a brand of being holier than thou latte-sipping, left-wing socialists. Democrats need to communicate shared values on real issues of concern — more around affording the monthly mortgage payment and less about a theoretical ivory tower case for defending democracy.
  2. Pull back on the Dobbs abortion rhetoric and recognize that very few voters in New York State today see reproductive freedom as under fire in the Empire State. That type of messaging isn’t persuading anyone who isn’t already voting Democratic.
  3. Champion economic growth opportunities that help people — many of whom don’t have or won’t ever have a college degree. Democrats need to lead with lunch pail Cuomo economics that focus on the working class and middle class who work in industries like construction and improving infrastructure.
  4. Put forth bold moderate, middle-of-the-road proven vote getting candidates like Tom Suozzi, who recently announced a run against George Santos, and getting former Nassau County Executive Laura Curran to come out of retirement to clear the field and run for Congress on Long Island.
  5. Be better at simply counting votes. Democratic candidates need to know their “win” number and make this the fulcrum of their campaign strategy; too often Democrats are leaving election turnout efforts up to chance or outsourcing the work to allied third parties who often don’t deliver.

Honan is the CEO and president of Honan Strategy Group and co-president of the New York Metro Chapter of the American Association of Political Consultants. Wierson is a media consultant and former political advisor to former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg. 

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