If you’re a student of the Revolutionary War, you know that some of the greatest military battles took place on Long Island. There haven’t been any such conflicts here since that time, but this year the Island will be the location of one of the most significant political battles in New York state history.
From time to time, the voters in Nassau and Suffolk counties have been the deciding factor in an election. But this year, both major political parties will closely watch the results of the races for Congress and the State Senate, because they will reverberate in Washington as well as Albany. And nobody can ever recall that happening.
New York is known to be a blue state, historically favoring Democrats. But with a national groundswell of support for the party this year, the turnout for Democratic candidates may be even stronger than in a typical even year, and it could have a dramatic impact on all of Long Island’s Republican candidates.
Most political experts think the Democrats can take over the House of Representatives. Long Island has two Republican members of Congress up for re-election, and they will face the possibility of being swept away by a so-called Blue Wave. U.S. Rep. Peter King has been an established winner for many years, and his visibility and knowledge have earned him the respect of people from both political parties.
But King has a problem dating to 2010. When the congressional district lines were redrawn, it was decided that additional Democrats would be added to his district, which changed it from a safe seat to a competitive one. Strong turnouts in the Suffolk County portion of the district could make King’s race a very tight one. His Democratic opponent will be the Suffolk County Legislature’s majority leader, DuWayne Gregory, who could benefit from having run two years ago.
The second Republican with election headaches is Rep. Lee Zeldin. Although he had an easy re-election race two years ago, this time he has a big target on his back. Zeldin votes with President Trump and the conservative faction of the House most of the time, and many of those votes will come back to haunt him in November if there’s a Democratic wave. His Democratic opponent hasn’t been chosen, but a carload of money will be spent in the effort to defeat him.
The next big challenge for Republicans will be for the incumbents in the State Senate. Democrats are expected to make a strong challenge to Kemp Hannon and Carl Marcellino. Both are veterans of numerous campaigns, and their seats are critical to the GOP’s chances of holding the majority in Albany. To balance any possible loss, the Republicans have a chance to unseat one-term Democratic Sen. John Brooks.
The problem for some of the Republican incumbents is not of their making. Trump has made many Republicans vulnerable, and his popularity ratings in New York state are at a national low. While there are pockets of supporters upstate and in Suffolk County, the anti-Trump fervor is at a high pitch. The universal New York distaste for him will bring out lots of voters who may vote across the ballot for Democrats, and swamp Republican incumbents.
The local challenge for Republicans is the numerous corruption trials in Nassau County. While one Democrat has faced criminal charges, the press has focused heavily on the trial of Republican former County Executive Ed Mangano, and there’s no doubt there will be negative fallout, regardless of the verdict in that case. The electoral wave that elected Democrat Laura Curran county executive was energized by the political corruption allegations in the county, and there’s no sign that the tide has gone out.
Outside Long Island, Republicans will be strongly challenged, especially at the congressional level. There are at least five targeted incumbents, and the odds are that at least two or three will be swept away in November. But the local battles are being watched by leaders in Washington as well as Albany. It’s possible that the upcoming election will make both national and state history, without one cannon shot being fired.
Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column? JKremer@liherald.com.