McKinstry: New York Republicans are swimming upstream

Congresswoman Nan Hayworth speaks durings a news conference Congresswoman Nan Hayworth speaks durings a news conference about rebuilding the Forge Hill Road bridge in New Windsor. (Aug. 30, 2012) Photo Credit: Rory Glaeseman

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Gerald McKinstry Portrait of Newsday editorial board member Gerald McKinstry

Gerald McKinstry is a member of the Newsday editorial board.

Joanne Cox wasn't thrilled with her options on Election Day.

The economy gave her pause, but so did women's issues: So Cox opted for President Barack Obama, a Democrat, because she believed he would be a better advocate.

When it came to the State Senate contest -- where Assemb. George Latimer (D-Rye) and Bob Cohen (R-New Rochelle) were locked in a nasty and bitter battle for the open 37th District seat -- the nurse from New Rochelle said it was hard to know who was telling the truth.

There, Cox opted for the candidate she believed was the "lesser of two evils." Again, she voted for the Democrat.

The president's coattails proved to be long in the Hudson Valley, where Democrats won handily in many down-ballot races and knocked off Republican incumbents in others -- for the House of Representatives, Assembly and State Senate.

Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney ousted Rep. Nan Hayworth (R-Bedford) with 52 percent of the vote, and White Plains City Councilman David Buchwald knocked off Assemb. Robert Castelli (R-Goldens Bridge) with 53 percent. Both incumbents had served just one term.

And Latimer beat Cohen. That race was a surprise to Republicans, since two years ago Cohen came within 700 votes of beating longtime incumbent Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer (who announced her retirement in January). But he garnered only 45 percent of the vote this time, to Latimer's 54.

Now it looks like New York is under one-party rule: Democrats have a governor, the attorney general, two U.S. senators and both houses of the State Legislature, as it appears Democrats captured the majority in the State Senate. They have 21 of New York's 27 congressional seats. In 2010, Republicans had eight seats.

Republicans had a slate of strong congressional and state candidates in places like Westchester, Suffolk and upstate New York, but still took a beating -- and lost ground.

They have to be asking, "What happened?" The answer: Obama and a roughly 2-to-1 Democratic enrollment advantage.

"You think you're making progress," said Republican strategist Bill O'Reilly (he writes a column for Newsday), who worked on congressional and State Senate races, including Cohen's. Republicans also lost ground in state and congressional races that they made in recent years. "It's like an arm just swept the pieces off the kitchen table."

Obama won New York with 3.8 million votes to Mitt Romney's 2.2 million, according to unofficial numbers released by the state Board of Elections. The president won Westchester with 60 percent of the vote and Rockland with 53 percent.

Romney won Putnam, where state Sen. Greg Ball (R-Patterson) held on to his seat.

After making strides in local races in recent years (Hayworth and Castelli were examples of those successes), Republicans again got creamed -- something that seems to happen every four years in predominantly blue New York.

"It's like a salmon swimming upstream," said Mike Edelman, a political strategist who has been a Republican since 1964, but this year changed his registration to unaffiliated. "The numbers keep getting larger and larger in favor of the Democrats."

At 5.4 million registered voters in 2012, Democrats have double the number of Republicans in this state. In 2008, there were 5.2 million registered Dems and 2.7 million Republicans.

Presidential-year losses will continue to happen unless Republicans embrace more moderate voices and views, especially here in New York.

That also means appealing to women, Hispanics and younger voters. It means not drawing a line in the sand on issues like immigration reform, women's rights, balanced budgets and debt.

The way Edelman sees it, Republicans need to "be in touch with the changing face of America."

If they aren't -- and if they ignore the state's growing unaffiliated populace, who also tend to be more middle of the road on social and fiscal issues -- Republicans can expect to eke out some victories in local races in the off years only to lose bigger ones every four years.

Gerald McKinstry is a member of the Newsday editorial board.

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