Nassau executive race comes down to persuasion, turnout
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The rematch for Nassau County executive next month will hinge on several factors, including whether Thomas Suozzi can persuade disenchanted Democrats back to the fold and if Republican Edward Mangano has broadened his appeal after four years in office, analysts say.
As the battle moves closer to Election Day, key geographic and demographic voting blocs have emerged, experts say. Now, it's a matter of whose supporters are motivated to go to the polls Nov. 5 in arguably the second-highest-profile contest in the state this year, next to New York City mayor.
In Nassau County, minority voters and Orthodox Jews -- who some say were the decisive blocs in 2009 when Mangano upset Suozzi -- are crucial constituencies again in 2013.
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The anniversary of superstorm Sandy -- coming just before Election Day -- will play a role too, analysts and party officials said.
There also are "X factors," such as a growing majority of enrolled Democrats in the county, the potential impact of the federal government shutdown and several hotly contested town supervisor races.
"Anything can make the difference," said Michael Dawidziak, a political consultant who typically works with Republicans, but is not involved in the Mangano-Suozzi contest. Noting Mangano's 386-vote victory over Suozzi in 2009, Dawidziak said the slightest surge or dip in any one demographic or geographic turnout could swing the outcome.
"This campaign comes down to two words: persuasion and turnout," Dawidziak said.
A Newsday/News 12/Siena College poll shows it will be an uphill battle for Suozzi. The poll of likely voters conducted Oct. 6-9 showed Mangano leading Suozzi 52 percent to 35 percent.
A comparison of the 2005 and 2009 county executive races highlights some key components to this year's contest.
The Republican candidate's totals didn't fluctuate wildly between the two elections -- but Suozzi's did.
Mangano and the 2005 GOP candidate, Greg Peterson, drew somewhat similar vote totals: 122,489 for Mangano, 114,705 for Peterson.
Suozzi, who served from 2002 to 2009, saw his vote total drop by nearly a third: from 181,675 in 2005 to 122,102 in 2009. His numbers fell in every county legislative district while the GOP enjoyed big gains in Massapequa and Oyster Bay, Nassau Board of Elections' records show. Suozzi since has said he took the race for granted -- as evidenced by the huge vote drop-off.
Democrats have to persuade party members who regularly vote but sat out four years ago to return to the polls this time, many analysts said.
Lawrence Levy, executive dean of Hofstra University's National Center for Suburban Studies, said the two voting blocs that proved to be decisive in Mangano's 2009 upset were minorities, who didn't turn out in high numbers for Suozzi -- and Orthodox Jews, who anecdotally turned out for Mangano.
"Orthodox Jews . . . more and more are voting in national elections like religious conservatives and voting Republican," Levy said. "The Mangano campaign worked very hard to engage those voters . . . and, anecdotally, he did very well."
Levy noted that while minority voters supported Suozzi in 2009, they did so in fewer numbers.
That year, Suozzi got 71 percent of the vote in three western Nassau legislative districts that are predominately minority and cover communities including Roosevelt, Uniondale, Elmont and Hempstead Village. But turnout in those districts was just 20 percent, county Board of Elections tallies show. In 2005, Suozzi received 80 percent of the vote in those districts and turnout was about 25 percent.
"I think minority voters are going to be a bigger factor this year than in years before," said Arthur "Jerry" Kremer, a former Democratic state assemblyman who is now a political consultant. Both candidates are putting effort into trying to reach that bloc, he said. "Suozzi has to bring them back home," Kremer said. "But at the same time, Mangano hasn't been asleep for the last four years. He's been working [that bloc], trying to make a dent."
A lengthy federal government shutdown could potentially hurt Republicans, such as Mangano, in local elections if the GOP is largely seen as responsible for the gridlock, several analysts said. If so, it would be another recent example of national politics impacting local races.
"Republicans are privately concerned about the government shutdown affecting Republicans all over, the same way the debate over 'Obamacare' hurt Democrats in 2009 and 2010," Levy said.
Kremer said that because this is a rematch, there's no real group of swing voters: Both sides will be largely targeting the same people they targeted in '09.
Suozzi needs high turnout in his home base in Glen Cove, as well as key parts of North Hempstead Town such as Roslyn, East Hills and Great Neck. Mangano will focus on places where he fared well in 2009, including Garden City, Massapequa, Bethpage and Seaford, analysts said. Republicans also hope re-election campaigns for Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray and Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto will generate GOP turnout.
Stanley B. Klein, a political science professor at LIU Post and a Suffolk Republican committeeman, said Hempstead is key for both candidates. "If Suozzi can get out the minority vote in Hempstead (village), he wins," Klein said. Minorities make up a majority of the village of about 54,000 residents, and they are overwhelmingly Democratic, he noted.
"Wherever you can pick up 400, 500, 600 votes, that's important," Klein said.
Democrats also hope an enrollment advantage helps Suozzi. In 2009, Democrats had an 11,000-voter advantage over Republicans. Now, they are up by 38,000, according to the state Board of Elections.
In the end, overall turnout could point to the winner. When Suozzi cruised to a 67,000-vote victory over Peterson in 2005, about 305,000 Nassau residents cast votes. In 2009, turnout dipped to 254,000, according to county Board of Elections figures. A return to the high end of that range would favor Suozzi, and the low end, Mangano, analysts said.
Superstorm Sandy can't be discounted, either. For example, analysts wondered if Mangano could land more votes this time in Long Beach, which has traditionally supported Democrats. Mangano's name recognition and favorability went up dramatically after the storm, during which he appeared on television and at briefings, often with other officials such as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The anniversary lands a week before Election Day.
"If Mangano wins a close race, we'll be saying that Sandy helped," Kremer said. "He had a very high profile after the storm and he kept that going for quite a while. Part of the populace got to know him through Hurricane Sandy."