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State Senate Democrats two seats away from holding a supermajority

Karen DeWitt / WBFO Albany Correspondent

Most of the attention this election season has been focused on the presidential campaign, but there are also a significant number of New York State Senate races in play. Democrats need just two more seats to gain a supermajority that could potentially override any vetoes of legislation issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Democrats hold 40 seats in the 63-member Senate chamber. In 2018, they decisively took the Senate from the Republicans after a century of nearly continuous GOP control of the chamber. If Democrats can win just two more seats in November, they would gain a veto-proof majority.

The State Assembly already has more than enough Democrats to launch an override vote. 

Sen. Michael Gianaris, who is leading the campaign efforts by Senate Democrats, said a veto-proof majority would strengthen the hand of Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins during budget negotiations with Cuomo, where many other major policy matters are also decided.

“It helps, whether or not we end up overriding any vetoes, the fact that we might be able to will affect the outcome,” Giardiasis said.

Democrats in the Legislature have differed from Cuomo on some key issues, including taxing the wealthy and giving more money to poorer school districts.

Bruce Gyory, a Democratic political consultant who is not working on any of the Senate races this year, agrees that just the threat of an override vote can be enough. He said no governor wants to see their vetoes overridden.

“It’s a sign of political weakness, it’s interpreted that way,” Gyory said. “It changes the calculation.”

There are a number of factors in the Democrats’ favor this year that could lead to a supermajority. Republicans currently hold just 20 seats. Ten veteran GOP senators decided not to seek reelection, rather than continue to be in the chamber’s minority party. And some of those open seats are in districts where the demographics are changing to favor Democrats.

Gyory said one of the key demographics in determining races is suburban independent voters, particularly women. Polls show them turning away from President Donald Trump and favoring Democratic candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden. Their vote for president could affect how they vote in downballot races.

“If gender gap turns into gender gulch, and they carry that predisposition into the local races, that’s going to make a huge difference,” Gyory said. 

Republican candidates for Senate seats still have some elements in their favor, though.

Democratic candidates running upstate and on Long Island can be viewed by some voters as leaning too far to the left and catering too heavily to the needs of New York City. There are also many staunch Trump supporters in the state who would likely also vote for Republicans in local races. 

Senate GOP Minority Leader Robert Ortt of North Tonawanda said Republicans have a good chance of picking up seats in Long Island and the lower Hudson Valley, where first-term Democrats are defending seats that were previously long held by Republicans. And he said two seats in Syracuse and Buffalo with strong Republican constituencies are likely to remain in the GOP column. 

“They are running on a supermajority, and I think that’s the last thing people want,” Ortt said. “A supermajority of one-party control across the state of New York.” 

Gyory cautioned that if Democrats gain the two additional seats, overriding the governor -- if it comes to that -- might not be that simple. He said the Democratic candidates running for some of the open seats in former Republican-held districts are more moderate than some of the left-leaning Democrats elected in 2018.

“Just because you have a majority, a veto-proof majority, doesn’t mean you can actually override the veto,” Gyory said.

He said it might be difficult to get all of the senators to agree on items favored by progressives, such as raising taxes on the wealthy, making an override impossible.

Gianaris said the Senate Democratic conference already includes some moderates, so he does not foresee any problems. 

“Our conference is already diverse,” Gianaris said. “And has been remarkably unified. And I would expect that to continue.” 

So far, Cuomo does not seem worried by Democrats winning more seats in the Senate. Cuomo, who in the past has been criticized for not doing enough to help Democratic candidates for Senate, has this year appeared, virtually, at nine fundraisers for Democrats.

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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