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GOP senators waiting out tense ballot count

ALBANY -- Two veteran Republican state senators are waiting out a tense absentee ballot count to see if their landmark votes a year ago to legalize gay marriage in New York cost them their political careers.

The count of thousands of absentee ballots from Thursday's GOP primary will take days.

Among the four Republican senators who cast the deciding votes to legalize gay marriage in June 2011, two -- Sen. Roy McDonald and Sen. Stephen Saland -- are now fighting for their political lives; one -- Sen. James Alesi -- retired this year in the face of opposition from his vote; and a fourth -- Sen. Mark Grisanti of Buffalo -- won his primary.

The Republicans said they agonized over their vote and ultimately cast votes of personal conviction, immediately angering their base. In response, a frustrated McDonald famously shouted publicly that if voting his conscience isn't the right thing to do, critics can "take this job and shove it."

According to unofficial results compiled by The Associated Press, Saland, of Poughkeepsie, who cast the deciding vote for gay marriage, is barely leading Neil DiCarlo in Saland's first GOP challenge in his 32 years in public office. McDonald, whose district is based in Saratoga County, is slightly behind Kathleen Marchione, the Saratoga County clerk.

"It shows when it comes to Republicans, that principles matter," said New York State Conservative Party chairman Michael Long. The influential and longest-serving political leader in New York had warned Republican senators before the June 2011 vote that he would oppose anyone who voted for gay marriage.

"Regardless of how it turns out, the standing up for principle was loud and clear," he said in an interview.

Political analyst Bruce Gyory said the veteran senators, however, may have an advantage in the absentee vote count. Their political organizations are far more experienced in winning the count of voters who mailed in ballots because they were out of town on primary day.

He said other issues were at play in local races. He noted Saland's contest in the Hudson Valley probably had a larger-than-usual turnout of conservatives because of a local Assembly race featuring a tea party candidate.

Long agreed the vote against McDonald and Saland went deeper than same-sex marriage. He noted the campaigns against them also criticized the Republicans for supporting Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's tax increase in December, after promising in the 2010 campaign that they would oppose tax increases.

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