ALBANY – If Republicans hold onto control of the state Senate, how did they pull it off?
They faced voter enrollment disadvantages, voter anger at incumbents and high-flying poll numbers for the candidate at the top of the opposing ticket.
There answers: the turnout factor, the Trump/Clinton factor, and the money factor.
In the end, the Republicans tapped the power of their incumbency and called in years’ worth of chits with voters – who were carefully selected by Republicans for their district during the last redistricting process in 2012.
Taxpayer-funded newsletters touting the accomplishments of the Senate Republicans have flooded homeowners’ mailboxes for months Senate Republicans pointed out that they drove through record school aid increases this year – always popular in property-tax weary districts – and got a middle class income tax break program to pitch to voters.
Senate GOP office staffs also have been running in high gear, answering constituent calls and emails to resolve problems that ranged from health insurance to a stalled business licenses at state agencies.
Beyond incumbency perks, Senate Republicans had other help. Hillary Clinton won big in New York but she clearly had no coattail effect in New York.
But Trump did. He won in Dutchess and Putnam counties, which appeared to help two Senate Republican incumbents, Sue Serino and Terrence Murphy. Trump also won Orange County, home to 88-year-old Sen. William Larkin, who beat back a ferocious challenge that was fueled heavily by the state teachers union.
Farther up the Hudson River, Trump won Schenectady County, which is home to incumbent Sen. George Amedore.
Even in Nassau County on Long Island, home to five contested Senate races, Trump won 46 percent of the vote, providing trickle down help for the GOP Senate contestants.
Republicans Wednesday morning claimed victory of in the Senate, while Democrats said they contest two Long Island races.
The Republican candidate in the Senate 8th district, Sen. Michael Venditto, is behind by 33 votes after more than 129,000 votes were cast in the district in Nassau and Suffolk counties. The closeness makes it all but certain that race will not be decided until after weeks of court maneuverings and paper ballot counting.
If Venditto loses, it means the GOP would have 31 seats in the 63-member chamber.
But they also add a vote with Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn lawmaker who has conferenced with the GOP since arriving in Albany.
Democrats say there is another race that they believe the GOP will lose: the Senate 5th district on Long Island held by Republican Sen. Carl Marcellino. He is ahead by 2,425 votes over James Gaughran, and Democrats say they intend to count all paper ballots befoe a winner is named.
Uncertain is the role of the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference, a seven-member group headed by Bronx Sen. Jeff Klein that several years ago broke from the mainline group of Senate Democrats. It’s possible the Republicans will not need independent Democrats to stay in control of the Senate.
But Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said he and Klein talk frequently and that he is “very, very, very comfortable” that some sort of arrangement between the independent Democrats and the GOP can be worked out.