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The Editorial Board: Will Republicans learn after falling short again?

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APTOPIX Election 2022 New York Governor

A supporter of Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin reacts as media outlets begin to call the race for Democratic incumbent Kathy Hochul at Zeldin's election night party on Tuesday. Republicans haven't won a statewide election in New York since 2002.

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Even in a year when they had everything going for them – or at least, when they thought they did – New York Republicans were once again shut out of statewide office, losing their bids for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and comptroller.

What is more, in their “wave” election, they did no more than chip away at significant Democratic majorities in both legislative chambers, though with two Senate races too close to call, it’s possible they will end the Democrats’ supermajority there. Even if they do, though, their failures in what was supposed to be a marquee year have showed themselves to be a lost party. The question now is: Will they finally learn a lesson? As necessary as that is for a healthy democracy, it seems unlikely.

It was always going to be a big leap for Republicans, given the Democrats’ vast advantage in registrations. But the wind was at their backs this year. Kathy Hochul was an “accidental” governor who inherited the office when Andrew Cuomo unexpectedly resigned last August. She made missteps early in her tenure.

Republican candidate Lee Zeldin was able to capitalize – if in misleading fashion – on rising crime, including in deep blue streets of New York City. But he couldn’t close the deal. Neither could Michael Henry, running for attorney general or Paul Rodriguez running for state comptroller or Joe Pinion, hoping to unseat the U.S. Senate majority leader, Charles Schumer. Some races, governor in particular, were closer than they have been in many years, but in the end, it was another wipeout. Why is that?

Ed Rath III had an idea about that. Speaking with The News editorial board during an endorsement meeting, the Republican state senator responded thoughtfully to a question about why his party wanders in the New York political wilderness. It came down to a failure to inspire, he said. Complaining will get you only so far.

We’d put it another way. The modern Republican Party is hostile to the ideas of a majority of New Yorkers. Instead of advocating conservative solutions to real issues, its candidates too often ignore, deny or distort them. Even on crime, Zeldin couldn’t resist announcing a ludicrous promise to declare a “crime emergency” on the day he took office – that in a state that, despite rising crime, remains in the national middle on violent crime and among the safest on nonviolent crime. Trying to fool voters is a bad strategy.

It wasn’t just New York where Republicans showed weakness on Tuesday. Around the country, the predicted “red wave” was hardly more than a ripple, despite the long history of big midterm gains by the party not in the White House. Indeed, it’s the second time in 24 years that Republicans have fallen short in that regard – in the 1998 midterms after overplaying their hand on then-President Bill Clinton’s misbehavior and again on Tuesday. It’s a sign that they are, in some significant way, out of step.

Votes were still being counted as of Friday and it’s possible Republicans will win small majority in either or both chambers of Congress. But the wave never came. Two big issues seem to have driven that: the party’s single-minded rejection of abortion in just about any circumstance and, more broadly, its continued embrace of the devastating compulsions of Trumpism.

Zeldin, for example, is an abortion opponent, an election denier and a committed Trump acolyte, even despite the overwhelming evidence of the former president’s violent effort to steal the 2020 election. That may play in Republican-dominated precincts such as New York’s 23rd and 24th Congressional Districts – won Tuesday by Nicholas Langworthy and Claudia Tenney, respectively – but it won’t get them through the door in Albany.

Abortion was a drag on Republicans even in red and purple states. In conservative Kentucky, voters defeated an antiabortion amendment to the state constitution, just as voters in Kansas had done earlier this year. In Michigan, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer won reelection, based in part on her support for abortion rights. Indeed, voters there also approved a ballot initiative that grants abortion rights constitutional protection.

But, if Langworthy is any indication, Republicans still don’t get it. Claiming victory shortly after polls closed on Tuesday, the outgoing leaders of the state Republican Party had this to say: “Our nation has been on a dangerously wrong track, and tonight is the night people said, enough is enough.”

He’s right, but for the wrong reason. If the country is on a dangerously wrong track, it’s at least partly because of what a national exit poll showed on Tuesday, with 60% of respondents reporting an unfavorable view of Trump, whose endorsed candidates were widely defeated.

New York needs two responsible, competitive parties to keep the other one honest, but most voters here aren’t buying what state Republicans are selling. Maybe Langworthy’s successor as leader can do better.

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Related to this story

Republicans' wait for a majority in the U.S. House dragged into another day Tuesday. The amount of outstanding votes in California and other states prevented The Associated Press from calling control of the chamber for the GOP a week after polls closed. Republicans have been inching closer to seizing the House but weren’t there yet. California alone has nine races remain to be called, and vote counting continues elsewhere. The AP has called 217 seats for Republicans to 209 for Democrats. Democratic control of the U.S. Senate was settled Saturday when Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada won reelection.

A batch of votes from the Las Vegas area gave Democratic incumbent Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto a 5,000-vote lead late Saturday that The Associated Press determined she would not relinquish. With more ballots still to be counted in that part of the state likely to favor her as well, the AP deemed that lead enough that Republican Adam Laxalt could not catch up. Cortez Masto's win along with Sen. Mark Kelly's victory late Friday in his reelection bid in Arizona effectively keeps the U.S. Senate in Democrats' hands.

Democrats will keep control of the Senate, repelling Republican efforts to retake the chamber and making it harder to thwart President Joe Biden’s agenda. The fate of the House is still uncertain as the GOP struggles to pull together a slim majority there. Catherine Cortez Masto’s victory Saturday in Nevada gives Democrats the 50 seats they need to keep the Senate. Her win reflects the surprising strength of Democrats across the U.S. this year. Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer says the American people have rejected “the anti-democratic, authoritarian, nasty and divisive direction” of Republicans who were promoted by Donald Trump. Biden says, “I feel good.”

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