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5 Things to Watch in New York's Primary Elections

September 13,2018 14:09

New York voters head to the polls on Thursday as an unusual season of primaries, marked by surprise victories and insurgent candidacies, moves to an end. Voters will choose their party's nominees for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and ...



New York voters head to the polls on Thursday as an unusual season of primaries, marked by surprise victories and insurgent candidacies, moves to an end. Voters will choose their party’s nominees for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and the State Legislature — and there’s more intrigue than normal.
The intrigue starts at the top: Can Cynthia Nixon defy the polls and deprive Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of a third nomination?
The race for the Democratic nomination for attorney general in New York — a contest to decide who will inherit ongoing lawsuits and inquiries into President Trump — is a tossup, according to the polls.
Even the logistics are complicated. New York has a split primary system where federal primaries are held in June but state and local primaries occur in September. This year’s primary is on a Thursday, rather than a Tuesday, because of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish holiday, and the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Finally, check your watches: In much of upstate New York, except for near Buffalo, polls do not open until noon; downstate, polls open at 6 a.m. All sites close at 9 p.m., according to the State Board of Elections.

“I cannot remember a primary where there are so many open seats and fascinating questions,” said Jeanne Zaino, a professor of political science at Iona College. “People are in a wait-and-see moment, whereas you usually know how things will go.”
Here are five things to look for in Thursday’s primary.

Will the polls be wrong again?
This electoral season has seen numerous examples of primary winners who had been trailing in the polls, including in New York, where Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was down 36 points, according to internal polls by her opponent, Representative Joe Crowley. She ended up winning by 15 points. Ms. Nixon finds herself in a similar predicament; every major poll has her trailing Mr. Cuomo by 30 to 41 points.
But Ms. Nixon has said the polls are not reaching the people who will come out to vote for her.
“We have a younger, more progressive, more diverse electorate. Those are the people that are going to turn out for me,” Ms. Nixon told The New York Times last month.
Bruce Gyory, an adjunct professor of political science at the University at Albany, said polls have not done a good job of measuring the impact of minority voters.

“In terms of the polling data, there is a chronic underestimation of both the minority vote and how sharply it breaks to candidates they vote for,” Professor Gyory said. That could be good news for minority candidates and especially minority women candidates.
[Why have primary polls been so inaccurate? Here are some reasons.]
“Across the country and in New York City we’ve seen upsets that pollsters haven’t predicted,” said Professor Zaino, who is also a pollster for AppliedTechonomics.
“We’ve seen insurgent candidates, women, especially African-American women and minority women, who have done better than expected and come from behind to upset establishment choices.”

Turnout matters.
With this year’s primary on a Thursday, voter turnout is uncertain. Generally speaking, a larger turnout means that more ballots will be cast by minority voters in New York’s urban core, and among white Catholics in the suburbs and upstate, Mr. Gyory said. A lower turnout tends to favor candidates who appeal to more progressive voters.
New York was eighth to last in voter turnout for the 2016 presidential election, and voter turnout is traditionally low in primaries.
In 2006, 16 percent of registered Democrats voted in the primary that saw Eliot Spitzer defeat Tom Suozzi, according to Steven Romalewski, director of the mapping service at the Center for Urban Research at the City University of New York Graduate Center. That number dropped in 2014, when just 11 percent of registered Democrats voted in the primary where Mr. Cuomo defeated Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham law professor now running for attorney general.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced efforts on Wednesday to boost low primary voter turnout, including sending letters home with the city’s 1.1 million students, reminding those eligible to vote.

Will the resistance vote be heard in New York?
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s surprise victory has election watchers wondering if the same progressive voters will be out in force again.
Ms. Nixon, Jumaane D. Williams, a city councilman who represents Flatbush, Brooklyn, and is running for lieutenant governor, and Ms. Teachout, have all categorized themselves as insurgent candidates.
“The question is does this resistance enthusiasm, which plays well at the district level, play as well in the statewide market?” Professor Gyory said.
While Ms. Nixon is trailing badly in the polls, Mr. Williams trails incumbent Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul by single digits, and Ms. Teachout seems to be in the thick of a three-way battle for attorney general with Representative Sean Patrick Maloney and the city advocate, Letitia James. (Leecia Eve, the fourth hopeful, has the support of only 3 percent of those surveyed in a recent Siena College poll.) Jimmy Van Bramer, a councilman from Queens, rescinded his endorsement of Ms. James, who has the support of Mr. Cuomo and the Democratic Party, to endorse Ms. Teachout.

“People are saying they are fed up with politics as usual,” Mr. Van Bramer said. “Young, progressive voters have zero interest in building up machines.”

President Trump as a local issue.
Every Democratic candidate running for attorney general has pledged to fight Mr. Trump and his policies. Mr. Cuomo has also made protecting New Yorkers from Mr. Trump a consistent theme in his messaging to voters, so much so that Ms. Nixon has tried to link the two men.
Given the president’s approval ratings in New York, it might be a good strategy. Mr. Trump has had a rough few weeks after the release of a book by Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward that depicts a White House in a constant state of chaos and an anonymous op-ed published in The New York Times by a senior official in the Trump administration that reinforces that view.
That discontent may drive voters to the voting booth.
“With the anger toward Trump and Republicans in Washington you hear people saying we don’t care who the Democrat is as long as it’s someone who will stop the Donald Trump train,” Professor Zaino said.

To I.D.C. or to not I.D.C.
In the State Senate, a number of races are being closely watched, including those involving incumbents who had belonged to the so-called Independent Democratic Conference, a group of breakaway Democratic senators who had a power-sharing agreement with Republicans. Under pressure from Mr. Cuomo, the group disbanded in April and returned to the chamber’s mainstream Democratic fold.
Still, dozens of anti-Trump resistance groups have backed candidates who are mounting energetic challenges to the renegade senators, arguing that the deal they had with Senate Republicans prevented a raft of progressive bills from becoming law.

The city comptroller, Scott M. Stringer, became one of the first elected officials to endorse anti-I.D.C. candidates in March, and he has since endorsed five of the eight challengers.
“This is issue-driven. Voters want to see change and they believe beating the I.D.C. will actually matter in their lives,” Mr. Stringer said. While out campaigning, Mr. Stringer said he met longtime Democratic voters who were unaware of the arrangement and “couldn’t believe this went on for eight years.”
[Have questions about the I.D.C.? We have your answers. Read here.]
Among the most consequential contests is the race in the 34th Senate District, which includes parts of the Bronx and Westchester County. Senator Jeffrey D. Klein, the former leader of the I.D.C. who was first elected in 2004, is being challenged by Alessandra Biaggi, 31, who formerly worked in the counsel’s office for Mr. Cuomo and later for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Another noteworthy race pits an eight-term Democratic incumbent, Martin M. Dilan, against a young democratic socialist, Julia Salazar, whose campaign was initially compared to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s, but has since been upended by questions about discrepancies in her portrayal of her background.

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