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New strategy emerges for Democrats to win Senate control

ALBANY -- Senate Democrats on Thursday confirmed a more feasible scenario of seizing majority control of the chamber from Republicans by working with the Independent Democratic Conference to form a new majority coalition.

Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins’ comment reflects a new strategy in the Senate power struggle and a threat to the Republicans’ only bastion of power in state government. Republicans now have a share of majority control because of its historic coalition with the Independent Democratic Conference of five break-away Democrats.

“I’m open to having a Democratic majority and I’m open to having a configuration that reflects what’s here,” Stewart-Cousins told Newsday.

Until Thursday, political and personal animosities had previously fueled a winner-take-all strategy in which the mainstream Democrats would have to win more than a half-dozen seats in November to seize a clear majority, without the IDC. That would require a big win -- rare in Senate elections -- to either make the five votes of the IDC unnecessary, or force the five members to return to the Democratic fold.

Stewart-Cousins’ Democrats would need to win as few as three seats in November if the IDC would join them in a majority coalition.

“The IDC is committed to staying with each other regardless of what happens,” said Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) on Thursday.

The new strategy emerges as the IDC faces an unprecedented threat.

The fifth member of the IDC -- Sen. David Valesky (D-Oneida) -- is now threatened with a Democratic primary challenge, according to the Syracuse Post-Standard. Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) and Sen. Tony Avella (D-Queens) already face primaries. Sen. David Carlucci (D-Clarkstown)  is threatened with a primary challenge and Savino said Thursday there are rumblings of a primary challenge to her.

Two years ago, Republicans posed no challengers to the IDC members, who also faced no Democratic primary challenges.

But in March Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, head of the state Democratic Committee, agreed to a platform by the liberal Working Families to take control of Senate from Republicans to pass progressive measures. Cuomo agreed to try to unseat Republicans even though they have been his most reliable allies. In the deal, the minor party gave Cuomo its important liberal endorsement.

The Independent Democratic Conference was created in 2011 as a repudiation of the past Democratic leadership. Since then, the IDC has maintained a share of majority control by aligning with Republicans, while the mainline Democrats were left in the nearly powerless minority.

The current Republican-IDC coalition can’t be challenged under the Senate rules until after the elections.

Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif declined to comment.

“Right now, we are focused on governing and reaching agreement on a number of end-of-session issues which remain under discussion,” he said. “This is not the time for politics.”

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