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In the running

Bruce Blakeman tours the downtown Lawrence LIRR station.

Bruce Blakeman tours the downtown Lawrence LIRR station. Credit: Johnny Milano

Daily Point

Can Nassau’s track record help Blakeman pull an upset?

No matter how you figure it, Republican Bruce Blakeman is an underdog in his fight to unseat Democratic Nassau County Executive Laura Curran in November.

Polling by both parties shows Curran, generally well-liked by voters, with a lead somewhere between large and enormous.

But leaders in both parties also say polling, locally and nationally, shows growing displeasure with Democrats that could bode well for Republicans.

And Blakeman has latched on to that history to argue that he has a shot.

With Democrat Joe Biden winning the White House last year, Curran would become the first county executive candidate from the same party as the sitting president to win the seat since Thomas Gulotta’s 1989 reelection followed George H.W. Bush’s 1988 victory.

That’s 28 years of precedent, with Gulotta’s later wins following Bill Clinton’s ascension, Tom Suozzi’s victories following those of George W. Bush, Edward Mangano’s triumphs following Barack Obama’s two victories and Curran’s 2017 success following that of Donald Trump’s.

And that’s in line with what generally happens in the House of Representatives, where the party in the White House has lost seats in every midterm election since 1934, except 1998 and 2002. In some cases those losses have been shape-shifting, with the Democrats dropping 63 seats in 2010 and 54 in 1994 and the Republicans losing 30 in 2006 and 48 in 1974.

But what does that have to do with 2021?

National polls are making Democrats edgy, including a YouGov poll of 1,500 respondents released this week that showed 47% blamed Democrats for Congress getting less done than usual, and just 20% blamed Republicans. The Democrats lead in a generic House poll 52% to 48%, but the GOP is the pick of 57% of independents, 43% of Hispanics and 18% of Black voters, worrisome figures for Biden’s party.

For his part, Blakeman says he can feel the distaste for Democrats building when he’s out campaigning, and remarked, "I can remember when the shoe was on the other foot, and Republicans were getting all the blame, but that’s not what I’m hearing today."

Nassau insiders in both parties quietly say they don’t think Curran, whose lead is rumored to be more than 20 points right now, needs to worry, but that their polls do show an increasing unease with the Democrats.

That could matter in tighter Nassau races, like the district attorney battle between Democratic State Sen. Todd Kaminsky and Republican prosecutor Anne Donnelly, or the comptroller race pitting Republican former State Sen. Elaine Phillips against Democrat Ryan Cronin.

And it could be a bellwether for 2022, when the Democrats will try to hold onto razor-thin margins in the House and U.S. Senate, looking to defy history in the same way Blakeman hopes to repeat it.

— Lane Filler @lanefiller

Talking Point

Double running

Jumaane Williams is now publicly saying he is "exploring a run for Governor," a race whose primary happens in June 2022. But there’s a small date in the middle of those milestones: Nov. 2, this year’s Election Day, when Williams will be on the ballot for reelection to the office of New York City Public Advocate.

It’s a bit of a strange situation that is shared this year on Long Island by the likes of Suffolk County Legislators Kara Hahn and Bridget Fleming, both of whom are on the Nov. 2 ballot for reelection to their current gigs — even while they fundraise and campaign for a congressional primary that takes place next year.

Essentially running for two offices at once includes juggling different campaign accounts with different rules, but it’s common for candidates, especially incumbents, to be planning ahead, given that local elections like ones for county offices are in different years than state and federal ones.

State history is full of candidates winking and nodding about being totally focused on the lower level race, not the higher one. "So confident is Harrison J. Goldin of reelection as Comptroller of New York City this year that he is able to devote time and money this campaign season to a possible run for Comptroller of New York State next year," begins an October 1977 New York Times article, featuring semi-sincerity from Goldin: "Sure, there’ll come a time when I want to devote my energies and experience to something else." The time came a few months later.

That same year, Bronx Borough President Robert Abrams won reelection, and by January 1978 there was public evidence of his state attorney general preparations.

Williams, Hahn, and Fleming are being a little more outwardly active on simultaneous races, but recent history shows the benefits of getting started on the big race early when you’re not too worried about losing the smaller one. Fleming herself waited to win her legislative seat in November 2019 before announcing her congressional bid a few weeks later — by which time there was only about half a year to the primary, allowing other candidates a big head start. She ended up finishing third.

— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Pencil Point

No touchdowns yet

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Final Point

Watching globally, drawing locally is a first

Long Islanders and other New Yorkers driven to see their political party prevail are gauging like never before the internal machinations of faraway states in the run-up to November 2022.

The partisan scrapping has begun in Ohio where Republicans dominate the state congressional delegation, 11-3. Democrats and advocacy groups are already in court fighting a state redistricting commission’s maps, arguing that they reflect the "single-minded goal of protecting Republican performance."

Democrats rule California’s congressional delegation, 42-11. Last year, Republicans there had won back four seats, which leads some observers to wonder just how the majority party can expand that margin. In Texas, where Republicans rule with a 23-13 advantage in Congress, the partisan strategy seems to be shoring up GOP districts to make them less vulnerable to Democratic "flips" over the next decade.

When it comes to New York State redistricting, the link between global and local is becoming greater than ever.

As other big states slug out their initial plans, it drives home the point more and more of how much the national party will push elected Democrats who dominate Albany to help them hold onto Congress. Republicans remain in good position to flip the necessary handful of seats to recoup control of the House next year under new lines, potentially foiling a crowded Biden administration agenda.

"This is definitely the most pressure from outside the state that there has ever been," said Jerry Skurnik, a seasoned New York City political consultant who delves into the granular details of voting patterns.

Ultimately, the Democratic-run chambers in Albany get to sign off on maps proposed by the new bipartisan Independent Redistricting Commission. So national analysts such as David Wasserman from the Cook Report have presented a scenario where the congressional delegation could go from the current 19-8 Democratic edge to a stunning 23-3 split.

That could make New York’s redistricting the most nationally influential, Wasserman suggests.

That brings a rarefied interest to new lines for Suffolk County where gubernatorial candidate Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) represents the current CD1, and Rep. Andrew Garbarino (R-Bayport) represents CD2. The suspenseful question: How will their local fates figure in the national balance of power via the House?

In previous decades, insiders who followed redistricting were obsessed with the State Senate, where the party numbers were recently close, and to a lesser degree the Assembly, with 150 local egos and careers at stake.

Leaders in Albany seemed relatively apathetic in the past about the congressional map. Perhaps no longer — with Washington so polarized that it galvanizes the major parties across borders.

Seats may flip. Priorities already have.

— Dan Janison @Danjanison

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