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GOP claims resurgence in legislative races; Dems maintain control

New York state Senate members meet in the

New York state Senate members meet in the Senate Chamber on the opening day of the legislative session at the state Capitol in Albany on Jan. 8. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

ALBANY — Half of the "Long Island six" senators are among Democrats trailing Republicans in suburbs statewide after the GOP ran on a law-and-order platform backed by millions of dollars in ads to combat two years of progressive control of the State Legislature.

The unofficial results of early voting and Tuesday’s in-person voting at polls found Sen. Monica Martinez trailing Republican Alexis Weik in the 3rd Senate District, Sen. James Gaughran behind Republican Edmund Smyth in the 5th District and Sen. Kevin Thomas trailing Republican Dennis Dunne Sr. in the 6th District. In the Assembly, veteran Democratic Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-Setauket) trailed Republican Michael Ross of Setauket in the 4th Assembly District.

On Long Island, Republicans also held onto traditional GOP seats.

Now candidates await the count of more than 200,000 absentee ballots sent in by Long Islanders. Democrats have cast the mail-in ballots at twice the rate, so far, as Republicans.

Democratic senators were also trailing in the 42nd District in the Hudson Valley and in the 40th District in Westchester County. In Brooklyn’s 22nd Senate District, Republican businessman Vito Bruno was leading Democratic Sen. Andrew Gounares, who is seeking his second term in a district that was represented by Republican Sen. Martin Golden for 15 years until 2018.

Even if the Republican leads hold, they won’t flip control of the Democratic majorities in the Senate and Assembly.

State Republican chairman Nick Langworthy credited the GOP leads to strong opposition to a 2019 law passed by Democrats that eliminates bail for most nonviolent charges and measures aimed at combating police confrontations that have ended in death of Black men, as well as focusing on the need to lower some of the nation’s highest taxes.

Overall, Langworthy said voters showed they want to "balance this state government and not just have a dictatorship … We need a course correction."

Democrats say it’s too early to declare winners because of the record number of absentee ballots cast — mostly by Democrats — to avoid crowded polls during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's a waiting game," said state and Nassau County Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs. "But I'd rather be us than the other guy."

If all Republican leads hold, the Senate’s Democratic 40-22 majority could be cut by four seats to 36. However, if the absentee ballot tallies favor Democrats in all close races, the majority could see a net gain of four seats, to 44.

"Despite a difficult night for many Democratic candidates throughout the state and nation, the Senate Democratic conference comfortably retained our majority," said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. "With the record high number of outstanding absentee ballots that are overwhelmingly Democratic, we will add even more victories to our majority as the vote counts continue."

Democrats’ optimism comes in part from Tuesday’s results in three upstate races in and around Rochester where they are poised to take seats long held by Republicans. In addition, in the 60th District in Buffalo, Democrat Sean Ryan declared victory in the traditional GOP seat based on outstanding absentee ballots that he believes will break his way.

Republicans had the help of some big-spending independent groups that blanketed Long Island and many suburbs statewide with TV, radio and internet ads with warnings about rising crime and taxes.

Safe Together NY, with donors led by billionaire businessman Ron Lauder, spent more than $2 million since mid-September on ads including "Vote against crime in New York." Another big spender supporting the Republican platform was the Long Island Law Enforcement Foundation, which spent more than $700,000 to oppose Democrats.

Lawrence Levy, executive dean of Hofstra University’s National Center for Suburban Studies, said suburban voters "tend to shy away from what they see as extremism of any stripe, and Long Islanders saw the Democratic votes on bail reform and other progressive issues as just too extreme. Democratic senators put a bull's-eye on their backs and the Republicans hit it with well-targeted campaign ads."

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