Opinion: New York could be facing a redder future

Redistricting failed to favor democrats, and a new congressional map threatens to break years of cemented Democratic stronghold in New York state.

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Vedang Lambe

New York Republicans and Democrats battle over newly redrawn districts in the upcoming midterm election. (Illustration by Vedang Lambe)

Blake Salesin, Staff Writer

New York is historically a blue state. It’s often considered one of the most liberal places in the country, and it hasn’t voted Republican in a presidential election since 1984. The current governor, Kathy Hochul, is the fourth Democratic governor in 15 years. Sen. Chuck Schumer — unlike his beloved New York Yankees — will slide into victory with a 12-point lead in the polls over Republican challenger Joe Pinion. 

However, take a look under the hood of this solid blue state, and you’ll find a surge of Republican candidates clawing their way to secure more congressional seats. 

As a new voter in New York state — coming from the swing state Michigan — I expected voting in New York to be a boring collection of Democratic landslides. In my district, it is exactly what I expected — but outside of the five boroughs, you’ll find intense races in places you may not have expected a Republican reach to take hold.

Naturally, when a single party has control over the executive branch and both levels of the legislature — as the Democrats currently do in the United States — their reach reverberates to local elections. It is increasingly likely that Republicans will reclaim a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, as is customary of the midterm switch, yet not many expect this trend to hit New York. 

Every 10 years, New York’s congressional districts go through a painful redrawing process where the state aims to better represent the electorate after the release of new census data. In an uninspired attempt at gerrymandering last February, Democrats proposed new districts that would’ve increased the likelihood of Democratic wins to 22 districts, as opposed to the current 19. The most controversial of these redrawn lines was in CD-11, the only solid Republican district in New York City. Democrats in the 11th District adjusted the maps to include solidly liberal areas of Brooklyn, such as Park Slope, to increase the chances of their preferred candidate in the Republican-dominated Staten Island district. Both Republican competitors and bipartisan political pundits immediately challenged the map.

“Sometimes you do need fancy metrics to tell, but a map that gives Democrats 85 percent of the seats in a state that is not 85 percent Democratic — this is not a particularly hard case,”  Michael Li, senior counsel for the Democracy Program at NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice, said in an interview with The New York Times.

With such outright disregard for the legality of the redistricting process, some New York state Democrats justified the act as a response to Republican attempts to rig the electorate for themselves. They opted to match their partisan hacking rather than taking the high road. What happened next can be seen as a profound act of karma. 

In April, New York’s highest court rightfully struck down the Democrat-led proposal as unconstitutional. The New York Court of Appeals said that the Democratic legislature had no right to redraw the maps after an initial attempt at bipartisan maps came to a stalemate. In return, the job was passed over to the court-appointed special master to redraw the lines which brought about the currently approved version: a competitive map pitting many Democrats against one another.

The new congressional map has created battlegrounds, primarily in the former solid blue Hudson Valley and the toss-up districts in central-eastern Long Island. For the first time in decades, Republicans are attempting to flip the Hudson Valley’s CD-17, and take advantage of newly drawn districts, like CD-18 and CD-19, also in the Hudson Valley, and the Long Island districts CD-1, CD-2 and CD-3. In these suburban and lower-density districts, Republicans are banking on inflation and President Biden’s low approval ratings to close the gaps. Biden carried Long Island’s districts in his 2020 election win — now, Republicans are competitive in all three. Both Nassau County and Suffolk County have quickly become a Republican guarantee irrespective of the Democrats’ biggest weapon: abortion rights. Big victories for Republicans in the off-year elections of 2021 were built off a platform of law enforcement and public safety, still a main target of policy for the party. Two of the four Republican candidates in the Long Island congressional districts come from a police and military background. 

Up in the Hudson Valley, Republicans have work to do, especially given their minority stance in the state on abortion rights. Political statistics hub FiveThirtyEight is predicting close wins for Democrats in CD-19, one of the three districts Republicans had hoped to flip with a more favorable electorate map. In another Hudson Valley district, CD-17, Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney was forecasted as a sure win, but has begun to face increasing pressure. Republican candidates like Assemblyman Mike Lawler, who is running against Maloney in the 17th, have preached the same as their counterparts across the country — high gas prices and inflation are wrecking our economy. 

However, as rising gas prices and inflation have seemed to settle, Democrats have poured thousands of dollars into ads attacking Hudson Valley Republicans. The tactic seems to have had minor effects; over time, the Republican candidates, specifically in CD-18 and CD-19, have lost steam ahead of the election. Earlier this month, polling had shown an increase in the likelihood that each of the three Democratic candidates would win, but each race has tightened in the past week. Even in the ongoing gubernatorial election, Hochul is potentially losing her lead against Republican competitor Lee Zeldin. 

As it looks right now, Republicans may not gain any more seats than what they started with on Nov. 8. But, there is no denying the future implications of the failed attempt Democrats made to gerrymander their way into putting Republicans in a chokehold. The newly drawn maps will offer competitive races for the next decade to come, and if it wasn’t for New York Republicans’ embarrassing reluctance to provide adequate protections for women’s health, then we could be seeing Republicans leading polls in the Hudson Valley and the more competitive districts of Long Island.

WSN’s Opinion section strives to publish ideas worth discussing. The views presented in the Opinion section are solely the views of the writer. 

Contact Blake Salesin at [email protected]