Tuesday, September 11, 2018

New York State Politics Quick Picks

New Yorkers go to the polls on Thursday, choosing primary candidates for state races (the federal primaries -- where, famously, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez knocked off Rep. Joe Crowley -- were held on a separate date).

I'm not a New Yorker, but I still will venture some predictions on a couple of races of note. To be clear, these are predictions, not endorsements -- I'm saying who I think will win, not who I'd like to win.

Governor's race (Cuomo vs. Nixon)

I've always been a "hey, all the Democratic candidates are basically fine, so don't sweat it if your guy loses the primary" sort of guy. That was true in the 2008 presidential primary, and it was true in the 2016 presidential primary. Many people think Cuomo has been gearing up for a 2020 run, and if he was somehow nominated .... boy, would that test my commitment to the principle (for the record: yes, if by some Bad Place horror-show we're faced with a Cuomo/Trump race in 2020, vote for Cuomo).

Cuomo is one of my least favorite prominent Democratic pols. He's heavy-handed, he's entirely happy to keep Albany's dysfunctional machine intact so long as he holds its reins, and he's worked to stymie progressive priorities throughout his tenure (his fingerprints are all over the repulsive IDC traitors who gave Republicans control over the State Senate -- more on them in a moment).

The good news is, I think Cuomo has been sufficiently damaged that his 2020 ambitions are dead in the water. The bad news is, I think he's going to win his primary this week. I'm not a huge fan of celebrity candidacies, and at times Cynthia Nixon has sounded more like a speak-and-spell of d'jour lefty talking points than an independent personality. Still, I have no doubt she'd make a competent governor, and given how wretched I find Cuomo that's more than enough to justify casting a ballot in her favor. Plus, some of those rote-repeated talking points are actually pretty good policy!

But Nixon has badly lagged in the polls, and her campaign has never gotten much traction upstate. Backers will point to other prominent polling "misses" recently, e.g., Andrew Gillum in Florida or Ayanna Pressley in Massachusetts, where left-wing candidates have blown past expectations in Democratic primaries. But those races either have been (a) open races (Gillum) or (b) single-district elections in deep blue, urban turf (Pressley, Ocasio-Cortez). We haven't seen anti-establishment anger translate into a Democratic incumbent losing statewide yet, and (regrettably) I don't see that changing. Nixon got a late gift with a ill-conceived state party mailer tying her to antisemitism (when even Dov Hikind thinks you've gone too far....), which will only further inflame her base and emphasizes the really grimy nature of the New York Democratic establishment, but I don't think it will be enough.

New York State Senate

A couple of races here have gotten some national attention. The most important, in my eyes, are the challenges to eight former members of the Independent Democratic Conference, a group of breakaway Democrats who until recently caucused with Republicans and gave them control of the state senate (despite a nominal Democratic majority). It was dirty Albany politics at its worst, and in this Trumpist era Democratic primary voters are in no mood for collaborationists. I hope all of them go down, and hard.

Unfortunately, I've seen no polling in these races and the IDC members are scattered among very different districts all across the state. So it's hard to draw any general predictions about whether they'll win or lose. If I had to venture a guess, I'd say that a few scalps will be claimed but that most are going to survive. In a sense, it's a shame that these races haven't gotten the attention of a certain other NY state senate race, since a sense of national momentum could've made all the difference. Alas.

Said "other" race, of course, is the ab-so-lutely wild contest where Julia Salazar, a working-class(?) Jewish(?) immigrant(?) democratic socialist (pretty sure on that, one at least for now) is challenging incumbent Martin Dilan. Every other day seems to bring a new revelation, each more nuts than the last (the most recent is that she's about to be outed as a sexual assault survivor which -- not cool, whoever's doing the outing).

Of course, with Salazar getting all the focus, I was left wondering what exactly was the deal with Dilan. He's not, to my surprise, IDC, which was my initial assumption for why he'd be the subject of such intense progressive vitriol. The line I've heard more recently is that Dilan is seen as too close to developers, though I haven't gotten much more details than that.

One might think that all of this negative press might kneecap Salazar's chances. But I think she's going to win, and going to do so handily. Rightly or wrongly, I think Salazar's backers think of this negative press as a smear campaign that targeting a non-establishment progressive, and so if anything it will make them more enthusiastic about her chances. And while I don't think an AOC or Pressley style insurgency can overcome incumbency advantages statewide in New York, the Brooklyn area that Salazar is running is another matter entirely. Plus, Dilan (again, for whatever reason) doesn't seem to be that popular in his district -- his last challenger got 41% against him, and 2018 is shaping up to be a much better year for candidates of Salazar's ilk.

Finally, there's one other New York State Senate race worthy of mention, also falling in the "technically not-IDC" category. That would be incumbent Simcha Felder's contest against challenger Blake Morris. Felder isn't IDC, but only because he caucuses with the Republican Party outright despite nominally running on a Democratic line. That turncoat status was enough for the New York Times to endorse Morris.

Felder represents a heavily Orthodox Jewish district in New York (including Boro Park), and has distinguished himself by fighting against state oversight of Yeshiva education (alongside an otherwise generally conservative, if unremarkable, voting record). Morris, a secular Jew, says he's counting on "secret" Orthodox Jewish opposition to Felder to ride to victory. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer to see public signs that a challenger has backing in his community before I predict an upset. I think the Orthodox community will stick with Felder, and he will continue to be a massive thorn in the side of the Democratic caucus in Albany.

Short version:

Cuomo over Nixon

Salazar over Dilan

Felder over Morris

Over/under IDC candidates defeated: Two

No comments: