New Yorkers head to the polls on Tuesday for their second primary in two months.
Politicos predict historically low turnout. Not only are voters confused about why, after they voted on June 28, they have to vote again, but it’s altogether the wrong time for a primary. In New York State, where school doesn’t start until after Labor Day, the last week in August is all about cookouts, beach vacations, and the last moments to enjoy summer.
Estimates of turnout for primaries in Congressional and State Senate races run as low as 10 percent. Twenty percent is average for a primary, and it’s pretty good if more than 20 percent show up, said Carl Calabrese, a retired political consultant. He understands elections first hand: he was elected Town Supervisor of Tonawanda, one of Buffalo’s more populous suburbs, serving eight years, and later was deputy to Erie County’s elected county executive.
Making matters more confusing, several districts feature special elections to fill vacant seats. The winners of these races next Tuesday are going to Congress but only for a few months, unless they are also running in November and win then. Such districts have two races simultaneously on Tuesday’s ballot: a primary for November elections and a special general election.
Meanwhile, various incumbents across the state found themselves running in new districts where they don’t necessarily live. Incumbents’ changing districts have caused chain reactions, prompting other incumbents to also make moves. Several observers mentioned Democrat Mondaire Jones of the old District 17 moving from New York’s northern suburbs, Westchester and Rockland County, to run for the new District 10 encompassing lower Manhattan—places like Wall Street, Greenwich Village, and Chinatown—and parts of Brooklyn.
“This is the most confusing election I’ve ever seen,” Calabrese said.
The second primary came about because a court threw out an electoral map drawn up by the state’s Democrat-controlled legislature—one deemed too one-sided. The consensus is the Democrats got greedy and overdid it.
The maps that a court-appointed special master has now drawn instead put numerous Congressional districts back into play for the Republicans. In a state that just lost a seat in Congress, Republicans stand to gain as many as four seats, said Gerald Benjamin, a retired political science professor at the state college in New Paltz.
That’s important nationally, with Democrats having a narrow 220-211 edge in the House and expected to lose seats in midterm elections.
The Democrats’ bad luck was having the maps drawn by one of the few judges sympathetic to Republicans, said Jacob Neiheisel, a political science professor at the state’s University at Buffalo.
Neiheisel’s colleague, Shawn Donahue, said the new map was as good as the Democrats could have hoped with the special master trying to restore competitiveness.
Democratic areas in smaller upstate cities like Binghamton, Ithaca, or Utica “could have been stranded in a sea of red, but they weren’t,” Donahue said. The new map shows much larger areas colored purple, signaling they are competitive between the parties.
Mandating new maps forced the pushback of primaries for Congress and the state Senate. But primaries for statewide races and state Assembly went off as originally scheduled on June 28.
“The big concern is turnout,” said Basil Smikle, Hunter College director of public policy and former director of the state Democratic Party. Before that, he worked as a staffer for New York’s then-Senator Hillary Clinton. “Many New Yorkers go away the last two weeks of the summer before the kids go to school. That’s a real concern among the candidates.”
Only recently has New York joined other states in relaxing early voting and absentee ballot rules, and voters aren’t used to them yet, Smikle said.
New York voters in a 2014 referendum said they wanted nonpartisan districting, Smikle said. But the referendum was light on details on how to do that, and the legislature’s first map was far more partisan than foreseen.
Smikle termed the whole process “painful.” Representatives and challengers made plans for the 2022 election based on the later discarded map, and some found their prospects radically changed under the new map without much time to adjust.
Calabrese said the key to victory is getting a candidate’s supporters out. That’s always true, of course, but more so this time.
He pointed to one significant Buffalo-area race, Congressional District 23, an open seat with the May resignation of Tom Reed. The new map draws it from Buffalo’s suburbs south and east to the Southern Tier along the Pennsylvania state line. It’s considered a lock for Republicans.
Two local party heavyweights have squared off for the Republican nomination: Carl Paladino, in 2010 his party’s gubernatorial candidate, and Nicholas Langworthy, former chair of the Erie County Republican Party and then the state GOP.
Calabrese said Paladino has name recognition and a passionate base. Calabrese notes he’s friendly with both men and doesn’t have a dog in this particular hunt.
“He was Trump before Trump was. His supporters view him the way Trump supporters see Trump. Carl’s a disrupter, a middle finger to the establishment. Like Trump, he has this unique appeal you just can’t explain.” His campaign features signs that say, “It’s Carl Country.” The district heavily favors Trump, and Paladino’s identification with the former president won’t hurt.
Langworthy, meanwhile, has the support of county Republican chairs and organizations, Calabrese said. He worked his way up through the local and state parties, and then staffed for Congressman Tom Reynolds, and is “one of the best politicians I ever met. A natural politician,” Calabrese added.
That’s where Langworthy learned his craft, including getting out the vote, Calabrese said. “He’s great at grassroots politics: what works and what doesn’t.”
Langworthy also supports Trump and has various conservative endorsements.
A recent Buffalo News/Zeplowitz poll Calabrese trusts shows Langworthy with a slight edge within the margin of error, making the race a tossup. Paladino may have the advantage based on the district’s constituency and makeup, Calabrese said. If getting out the vote becomes the deciding factor, he’d give Langworthy the edge.
But he cautioned, “a lot of GOTV (Get Out the Vote) plans look good on paper but are paper tigers. The organizations have to function properly, not just on paper. There are a lot of ifs there,” including calls, visits, and driving people to the polls.