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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Worrisome signs for GOP in assembly election

Democrat Christine Pellegrino is emotional as she hugs

Democrat Christine Pellegrino is emotional as she hugs Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone after declaring victory in the special election for the Ninth Assembly seat left vacant when Joe Saladino became Oyster Bay Supervisor, Tuesday evening, May 23, 2017, in Massapequa Park. Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Was a Democrat’s surprise victory in a State Assembly race a referendum on the leadership of President Donald Trump?

Well, yes, since Democrats and third-party candidates took advantage of traditionally low turnout in special elections to support — with money and manpower — their candidate, Christine Pellegrino, who will be the first Democrat to represent the heavily Republican assembly district.

But the answer also is no, because special election trends often don’t hold up in Nassau or Suffolk general elections, because the stakes for major political parties are higher, and because voters tend to pay the most attention to local issues.

Still, the decisive results in the 9th Assembly District race may be making Nassau’s GOP nervous as the general election for a slew of county and town seats grows near — after a series of county and town corruption scandals.

Republicans in the 9th Assembly district, which covers parts of Nassau and Suffolk counties, are among the most consistent, reliable voters the Nassau County GOP has.

And yet, judging from unofficial results, loyal Republicans saw no reason to replace Assemb. Joseph Saladino — who was appointed Oyster Bay Town supervisor after fellow Republican John Venditto, who has pleaded not guilty to corruption-related charges, stepped down — with Conservative Party candidate Tom Gargiulo, who also had the Republican and Independence lines.

The race wasn’t even close: Pellegrino won by a margin of 58 to 42 percent.

Nassau accounted for only 40 percent of the overall turnout in the race Tuesday. Will Republicans turn out for Republican candidates in the general election in November, when control of Nassau’s three towns, the county executive’s office, the legislature and all but one countywide office is at stake?

That’s the overarching question looming in light of Tuesday’s results.

Should Republicans stay home, Democrats and third-party candidates once again could gain an edge.

But there’s another scenario for Nassau Republicans: What if reliable Republicans DO turn out to vote — but for the GOP’s opponents.

That happened in 1999, when angry voters wiped away Republican control of the Nassau legislature for the first time in more than 70 years. A year later, voters delivered the county executive’s office into the hands of the Democrats too.

Things changed again in 2009. But this time Democrats’ supporters stayed home, giving Republican Edward Mangano a 300-vote surprise victory over Democratic County Executive Thomas Suozzi.

Will Trump, who had decisive majorities in 9th Assembly District during the presidential election, make a difference in Nassau or Suffolk local races come November?

That remains to be seen.

With Tuesday’s assembly win under their belts, Democrats, unions and progressives will want to keep the momentum going — which, in turn, could up voting numbers.

Republicans in Nassau, meanwhile, have the trickier challenge.

Even with continuing federal probes into corruption, they’ll want to turn out their base — to vote for the GOP, rather than against it.

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