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LI's 'Red Wave': How it developed

Republicans Elaine Phillips, Bruce Blakeman and Anne Donnelly

Republicans Elaine Phillips, Bruce Blakeman and Anne Donnelly celebrate the Nassau County Election Night returns on Nov. 2. Credit: Corey Sipkin

Long Island was awash in red Tuesday after heavy Republican turnout — and comparatively light participation among Democrats — led GOP candidates to victory over Democratic incumbents throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties.

In interviews Wednesday, leaders of both political parties noted the GOP messaging in both counties on crime and state bail reform and, in Nassau, property tax increases Republicans attributed to Democratic County Executive Laura Curran's countywide property reassessment.

Party leaders also cited a lack of energy among Democrats in the first general election held after Donald Trump's presidency.

They pointed to divisions among congressional Democrats over President Joe Biden's spending bills, as well as anxiety about inflation and the supply chain crisis that could limit the availability of goods during the holiday season.

Suffolk County Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R- Lindenhurst), the minority leader, called the Suffolk district attorney's race, won by Conservative Ray Tierney, a "referendum on law and order."

McCaffrey recalled campaigning door-to-door in his district.

"People were asking, 'How do I get a gun permit?'," McCaffrey said. "People never asked me that before."

The bail reform issue also was prominent in the Nassau County district attorney race, in which Republican Anne Donnelly, a veteran Nassau prosecutor, beat state Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) by more than 50,000 votes.

Kaminsky had voted for bail reform, which eliminated cash bail for most nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors, as part of the state budget in 2019.

Kaminsky later worked to amend the law to give judges more discretion to consider defendants' danger to the community.

Retired U.S. Rep. Peter King, a Seaford Republican, said Kaminsky's presence on the Democratic ticket "certainly hurt" Curran, a Democrat who is trailing Republican challenger Bruce Blakeman by nearly 12,000 votes, according to unofficial counts.

King said the Donnelly-Kaminsky race "generated a lot of interest in politics in an off-year election. It brought out a lot of Republicans in the race, and more independent Democrats who thought the Democrats went too far left."

Blakeman has declared victory, but Curran has not conceded.

Republicans' strength was reflected in the vote turnout numbers, and in the lopsided votes in some marquee races.

Of the 223,147 voters who turned out Tuesday in Nassau County, 96,787 were registered Republicans, 76,385 were Democrats and 39,208 were not enrolled in a political party, according to Board of Elections’ Democratic commissioner James Scheuerman.

While a comparable breakdown was not available for Suffolk Wednesday, the county district attorney's race highlighted voters' preference for Republicans on Tuesday.

Tierney, a former prosecutor, beat Democrat Timothy Sini, a well-known incumbent, 57.3% to 42.7%, according to unofficial tallies by the Suffolk County Board of Elections.

Democrats also experienced difficulty in heavily Democratic North Hempstead Town.

In the town supervisor's race, Republican Jennifer DeSena received 53.93% of the vote to Democrat Wayne Wink Jr.'s 46.04%, according to unofficial returns.

In Nassau, King said, "I think in some ways this year is one of the most all encompassing waves we’ve ever seen."

Nassau and state Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs said he sensed trouble after a reading an NBC News poll on Sunday that found 71% of voters felt the country was headed in the wrong direction.

"That’s a pretty strong headwind to go into an election with," Jacobs said.

Jacobs said the Democrats' internal polls all showed Curran 20 percentage points ahead of Blakeman.

"What the polls got wrong were that they did not account for who was actually going to vote and who was not going to vote," Jacobs said.

Joseph Cairo, Nassau Republican chairman, remarked on a political "mood that I haven't seen in 30, probably over 40 years. Democrats were coming up to us saying they were going to vote Republican this year."

Cairo said of the national mood: "We benefited from it. This is something that's common throughout the entire country."

Meena Bose, executive dean of Public Policy and Public Service Programs and director of Peter S. Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency, said voters tend to consider their experiences over the past year when picking candidates.

"Problems with jobs, schooling, travel — I think those clearly have made this … a tough year for incumbents," Bose said.

With Rachelle Blidner

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