The battle for control of the State Senate is fully underway.
Normally, three to five Senate seats are swing seats in an election cycle in New York -- meaning they can be won by Democrats or Republicans. This year, however, eight to nine seats fit that description: three and perhaps four on Long Island, three in the Hudson Valley, and two upstate (one in Monroe County and another in the suburbs of Erie County).
The uncertainty -- so many different districts representing so many different regions -- makes predicting the outcome difficult. Here's a breakdown:
29 seats are held by the Republicans under majority co-leader Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre);
5 seats are held by the Independent Democratic Conference led by majority co-leader Sen. Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx), who formed a coalition with Senate Republicans the last two years but has now promised to form a Democratic majority coalition;
27 seats are held by Democrats led by Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers);
1 seat is held by Sen. Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat who caucuses with Republicans;
1 seat became vacant when Sen. Charles Fuschillo (R-Merrick) resigned last year to head the Alzheimer's Foundation of America.
In practical terms -- because it takes 32 seats to form a majority in the 63-member chamber -- neither party has the inside track to a majority in the Senate.
Some political observers believe Long Island's nine Senate races could determine which party takes control of the chamber. I disagree. Long Island will play a critical role, but even if the GOP holds all nine seats, Democrats could still regain the majority from races in the Hudson Valley and upstate.
Despite all the uncertainty, it is not too soon to project how the parties have structured campaign messages.
Democrats have potent issues at their back. Polling shows strong public support in the swing districts -- upstate as well as downstate -- for increasing the minimum wage, opposing fracking and codifying Roe v. Wade in state law. In the swing districts, the Democratic candidates support and the Republican candidates oppose those popular positions. If the three issues push voters' hands at the ballot box, the Democrats are well positioned ahead of next month's election.
Meanwhile, Republicans will target macro themes, such as reminding voters of the chaotic times when Democrats held the Senate majority from January 2009 to December of 2010. GOP talking points target upstate and suburban voters -- asking whether they can trust Democrats not to cater to New York City issues and concerns over the rest of the state.
The Democrats would be foolhardy to ignore the potent threat if the GOP successfully labels them -- upstate and in the suburbs -- as beholden to NYC liberals. Regionalism, after all, has been a factor in state politics for decades.
The looming clash between the Democrats' reliance on micro issues vs. the GOP's macro themes will test the offensive and defensive skills of both parties and their candidates. In political science classes, we call this a test of salience -- measuring which candidates persuade voters to accept their priorities as the voters' own. Campaigns that carry salience generate a velocity factor that usually carries the day when the votes are counted.
If you are a fan of politics or, more important, if you think the outcome of the State Senate elections will have consequences, you will be in for an exciting ride as we head toward Election Day on Nov. 4.
Bruce N. Gyory is a political and strategic consultant at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips and an adjunct professor of political science at the University at Albany.