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New York GOP tries to regroup after election losses

Sen. Majority Leader John Flanagan is among those under the microscope after the GOP went from a one-seat advantage prior to the election to a 15-seat minority.

ALBANY — Following startling losses in the State Senate and all the statewide contests in New York, Republicans are weighing leadership changes, GOP officials and allies said.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) is among those under the microscope after Republicans went from a one-seat advantage in the Senate prior to the election to a 15-seat minority. It’s not clear Senate Republicans will want to change leaders, but it’s up for discussion.

“What you saw in the Senate is seismic, and it’s natural for people to talk about change,” said one veteran Republican. “Are people talking about it now? Definitely. It’s definitely going on right now.”

Besides Flanagan, debate is underway about the status of longtime GOP state chairman Ed Cox, several sources said.

A Binghamton-area Republican who had been mentioned as a possible successor to Flanagan said Friday he doesn't think there should be a leadership change.

"John is making calls, he is talking to colleagues and he wants to continue as leader and he has my support," said Sen. Fred Akshar (R-Endwell). "It's fair to say we are having a robust conversation (about the leadership), but I think he's on his way to maintaining his position."

Besides Akshar, other Republicans mentioned as contenders are Sens. Cathy Young (R-Olean), Pat Gallivan (R-Elma) and Joseph Griffo (R-Rome), several sources said. Young, as head of the GOP Senate Campaign Committee, might be handicapped by Tuesday’s election losses, they added.   

Longtime Republicans used phrases such as “shell shocked” to describe the party reaction at the Democrats flipping eight Senate seats — including four on Long Island, long a bastion of GOP power. With a national Democratic surge — especially in suburbia — that saw the party win the House of Representatives, New York Republicans said they thought they might lose their slim state Senate majority, but not get wiped out.

“We expected to lose — but not to get slaughtered,” said a GOP staffer. “No one expected this.”

According to final but unofficial results, Democrats should have at least a 39-24 advantage when the Senate session opens in January. Republicans had held a 32-31 lead prior to Election Day.

Some Republican allies said they were being told up until the final days that incumbents such as Sens. Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn) and Elaine Phillips (R-Flower Hill) were ahead in internal polls. Both lost. Phillips fell by about 10,000 votes to Democrat Anna Kaplan, who scored a 55 percent to 45 percent victory.

Other incumbent Republican casualties were Sens. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) and Terrence Murphy (R-Yorktown). Three open seats long held by the GOP went Democratic.

“To see it move so quickly in a competitive environment was pretty stunning. And it makes the job of reversing things that much harder for Republicans,” said Lawrence Levy, executive director of Hofstra University’s National Center for Suburban Studies. “If they are going to stay relevant, they have to come up with a new suburban strategy and fast.”

In statewide contests, no Republican even cracked 40 percent. The party hasn’t won a statewide election since George Pataki won a third gubernatorial term in 2002.

Several Republican officials pointed out the party had held on to Senate power longer than many expected and saw the outcome as voter-enrollment trends finally catching up with them — there are 5.7 million enrolled Democrats in New York compared to 2.6 million Republicans. Further, they noted that Democrat voters turned out in much larger numbers than previous statewide elections, likely energized by congressional elections and opposition to Republican President Donald Trump.

“Everybody is cognizant there were larger issues at play,” said one GOP insider, so some but not all of the blame can be laid at the feet of Flanagan and Young.

A Long Islander has led the Senate GOP conference since 2008. Flanagan took over in 2015 after then-Sen. Dean Skelos resigned following a corruption indictment. But as of Tuesday, Islanders are no longer a dominant bloc among Senate Republicans and there will be clamoring to have a leader from upstate.

Adding to the mix, political operatives and Long Island sources said Flanagan has been mentioned as a possible candidate for Suffolk County executive in 2019.

Over the years, upstate legislators had to consent to allowing votes on a number of bills they might have opposed just to protect their more moderate Long Island brethren, Republican consultant Susan Del Percio pointed out. That might further fuel a push for an upstater.

“Do I think there will be talk? Yes. But do I think there will be action? Too early to tell,” she said.

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