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Republicans tout wins in state races; Democrats say not so fast

Karen DeWitt / WBFO Albany Correspondent

Election Day brought mixed results for Democrats and Republicans in New York’s congressional and legislative races. Republicans were quick to claim victory, but Democrats -- who will remain in the majority no matter the outcomes of contested races -- say the record number of absentee ballots needs to be counted first, and it might take weeks.

Many races have not been called and might not be definitive for weeks. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rules in New York state were changed to allow anyone eligible to vote to cast an absentee ballot.

Republicans are ahead in several contested races in early and in-person voting. They include Rep. John Katko in central New York and Claudia Tenney, who was seeking her old congressional seat back in a district that stretches from the Southern Tier to parts of the North Country.

Republican Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis has already declared victory over Democrat Max Rose in a seat that includes Staten Island.

State Republican Party Chair Nick Langworthy said he’s pleased to regain GOP representation in New York City.

“That is tremendous, that we are restoring strength to our party in the City of New York,” Langworthy said. “And I think it bodes very well as we look at the mayoral race next year, as well as statewide offices.”

Langworthy said his party believes it will also hang on to an open seat on Long Island held by Rep. Peter King.

In the state Senate, the results of early and in-person voting favor Republicans in five contested seats, on Long Island and in the lower Hudson Valley and New York City.

Senate GOP Minority Leader Robert Ortt called it a “course correction” and a “repudiation” of one-party control. He said it’s also a rejection of some of the majority Democrats’ policies, including bail reform and other criminal justice changes.

Ortt said some GOP candidates are leading in districts with more Democratic than Republican enrollment.

“It is a huge, huge signal to the leadership in the majority of the State Senate,” Ortt said. “The people of New York, of all political stripes, did not like what they saw the last two years. And they want to see something different. They want to see more balance. They want to see checks.”

Langworthy said Democrats in the Legislature “abdicated” their lawmaking powers during the pandemic to Gov. Andrew Cuomo when they gave him emergency decision-making authority, including over the state budget. And he said that hurt them in the elections. Speaking outside the State Capitol, which is closed to the public due to the pandemic, Langworthy gestured toward the building, where the governor and his staff have their offices.

“Father doesn’t know best,” said Langworthy, who added the results are a “rebuke” of Democratic incumbents. “Especially those freshman incumbents, who spent half the year passing terrible polices and then went underground during the pandemic.”

Democrats countered that Republicans are too hasty to claim the wins.

Democratic Senate Campaign Committee Chair Sen. Michael Gianaris, speaking on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom, said Democrats voted absentee in larger numbers than did Republicans, so the early results showing GOP wins could change when all of the votes are counted.

“We knew that there is an overwhelming Democratic absentee vote that has to be counted still in a lot of our districts,” said Gianaris. “Given our projections, we fully expected that in some of these close races we were going to be behind on election night and ultimately win, and that is the posture we are in now.”

Gianaris countered Langworthy’s accusation that lawmakers did not do enough during the pandemic, saying that the Legislature has returned several times to pass pandemic-related legislation.

Democrats had hoped to definitely win a veto-proof supermajority of 42 seats, but so far they have not achieved that.

Credit Karen DeWitt / WBFO Albany Correspondent
New York state Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy speaks to reporters outside the State Capitol on Nov. 4.

Gianaris said Democrats have solidly retained 36 seats of their former 40-seat majority. They are favored to hold on to three former Republican-held seats in Western New York and he believes that five more seats that are initially in the Republican column could ultimately be taken by Democrats, when all of the ballots are counted.

“The majority is intact with a sizeable cushion,” Gianaris said on The Capitol Pressroom. “That number is going to grow.”

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said in a statement that it was “a difficult night for many Democratic candidates throughout the state and nation,” but she added that she fully expects the Democrats to have more than 36 seats once all of the ballots are counted.

Ortt said he does not think that absentee ballots will change the results of the races where Republicans lead. But the GOP is not taking any chances. They have already gone to court seeking to impound ballots in several races.

“We want to make sure that the hard-fought wins and gains of our candidates last night are not altered or taken away,” Ortt said.

The absentee ballot counting and court action means it will be weeks before the outcome of some of the races are known.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.
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