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Democratic Insurgents Topple 6 New York Senate Incumbents • NY Times

By Vivian Wang, Sept. 13, 2018

Years of anger at a group of Democratic state senators who had collaborated with Republicans boiled over on Thursday, as primary voters ousted nearly all of them in favor of challengers who had called them traitors and sham progressives.

The losses were not only a resounding upset for the members of the Independent Democratic Conference, who outspent their challengers several times over, but also a sign that the progressive fervor sweeping national politics had hobbled New York’s once-mighty Democratic machine, at least on a local level.

The most high-profile casualty was Senator Jeffrey D. Klein of the Bronx, the former head of the I.D.C. In that role, he was for years one of Albany’s most powerful players, sharing leadership of the chamber with his counterparts in the Republican conference and participating in the state’s secretive budget negotiations.

[What exactly was the I.D.C.? Read our explainer here.]

But on Thursday, he was defeated by Alessandra Biaggi, a lawyer and former aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, after a campaign in which Ms. Biaggi cornered Mr. Klein into spending more than $2 million, an astonishing sum for a state legislative race. (Cynthia Nixon, in her unsuccessful bid against Mr. Cuomo, spent less.)

“If this doesn’t prove that political currency is people over money, I do not know what does,” Ms. Biaggi, who spent one-tenth as much as Mr. Klein, said at her victory party. “We have now cut the head of the I.D.C. snake.”

Mr. Klein did not appear at his watch party.

Also defeated were five other former I.D.C. members: Senators Tony Avella and Jose Peralta in Queens; Senator Jesse Hamilton in Brooklyn; Senator Marisol Alcántara in Manhattan; and Senator David Valesky in Syracuse. They fell to John Liu, Jessica Ramos, Zellnor Myrie, Robert Jackson and Rachel May, respectively.

The only former I.D.C. members to survive the primary were Senator Diane Savino, of Staten Island, and Senator David Carlucci, of Rockland County.

In another high-profile race, Senator Martin Dilan, who was not part of the I.D.C., was defeated by Julia Salazar, a 27-year-old democratic socialist whose candidacy energized young voters in swaths of gentrifying Brooklyn, despite near-constant controversy in the final weeks of the campaign.

“This is a victory for workers,” Ms. Salazar told supporters at a party in Bushwick.

The I.D.C.’s challengers had offered themselves as “true blue” alternatives to a cast of so-called fake Democrats. Though the I.D.C. disbanded in April— the move was widely viewed as a concession to rising pressure from the party’s left wing — the challengers were not satisfied, insisting that the incumbents had proven they were more interested in self-advancement than progressive change.


In reality, the challengers’ victories alone will have little effect on the fate of progressive legislation in Albany. The true test of that will come in November’s general election, when Democrats seek to flip several Republican-held Senate seats.

But the challengers’ wins sent a resounding symbolic message: The restless, impatient mood that has swelled within the national Democratic Party this year had come for local incumbents, too.


Several of the I.D.C. challengers, as well as Ms. Salazar, had aligned themselves with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 28-year-old first-time politician who, in a June congressional primary, upset Representative Joseph Crowley, the No. 4 Democrat in the House. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez endorsed Ms. Biaggi and Ms. Ramos. Ms. Ramos’s district overlaps with Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s.

Ms. Salazar in particular drew comparisons to Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, who campaigned vigorously for Ms. Salazar, dispatching her own volunteers to Brooklyn to canvass for her and promoting her to her large Twitter following.

“I think young women are a very visual, but also functional, embodiment of a rebuke of basically New York’s old-boy network,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said in an interview at Ms. Biaggi’s party. “And voters get that.”

The I.D.C. challengers also allied themselves with Ms. Nixon’s opposition to Mr. Cuomo, and to Zephyr Teachout’s attorney general bid. The Working Families Party, a progressive minor party and frequent antagonist of the governor, endorsed all the challengers and provided training and staff for their campaigns.
Bill Lipton, the state director of the W.F.P., cast the I.D.C. losses as a major triumph, even in the face of Ms. Nixon’s defeat.

“The center of gravity has shifted, and Andrew Cuomo will face a radically different Albany,” he said.

Still, the divergent fates of the challengers, compared to Ms. Nixon and Ms. Teachout, suggested that the I.D.C. upsets spoke more to the strength of anti-Republican antipathy across the Democratic Party, than of anti-establishment sentiment in its far-left flank.

At a polling site in the Bronx, several voters who said they had chosen Ms. Biaggi also picked Mr. Cuomo over Ms. Nixon, citing the governor’s experience.

That was also true of many of the establishment figures who endorsed the challengers yet backed Mr. Cuomo, such as Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Representative Carolyn Maloney and the City Council speaker, Corey Johnson.

Indeed, for allies of the insurgent slate that had challenged the Democratic Party machine, the anti-I.D.C. candidates emerged as the only electoral victors of the night.

Mr. Klein and his fellow former I.D.C. members, by contrast, campaigned as virtual islands. While they nominally won the support of Mr. Cuomo and their Democratic colleagues in the Senate after announcing their dissolution, Mr. Cuomo — who himself has been accused of tacitly supporting the I.D.C. — said little if anything about them on the campaign trail.

The I.D.C. members had faced primary challenges before, and they had long been a target for Democratic activists. But that anger, for years restricted to only the most politically attuned New Yorkers, crested over the past few months, in tandem with the surge of progressive energy nationwide after the 2016 presidential election.

[Make sense of the people, issues and ideas shaping the 2018 elections with our new politics newsletter.]

Activists began calling the I.D.C. members “Trump Democrats” and sought to educate voters who knew nothing about their senators’ so-called betrayal.

“We didn’t exist a few months ago, and now we’ve raised over $250,000,” said Jim Casteleiro, the campaign manager of No I.D.C. NY, a volunteer group.

Nearly all the voters at the Bronx poll site who backed Ms. Biaggi cited Mr. Klein’s role in the I.D.C. as a motivating factor.

“He’s a good man, but I don’t think it’s time for ushering in another Republican majority,” Peter McHugh, 59, said of Mr. Klein.

Also potentially harmful to Mr. Klein was the barrage of negative headlines in recent months, including an accusation of sexual misconduct against him and a state Board of Elections finding of improper campaign financing.

The challengers’ victories boosted the emerging progressive narrative that the old political model — buying expensive television ads, cozying up to real estate, corralling union support — had been displaced by vigorous grass-roots organizing.

Each challenger outspent his or her opponent on Facebook advertisements, sometimes by a huge margin. Ms. Biaggi and her allies spent between $14,500 and $93,800 on Facebook ads since May, while Mr. Klein and his supporters spent between $2,400 and $14,796.

Ms. Salazar adopted similar tactics against Mr. Dilan, who although he was not a member of the I.D.C. was successfully portrayed as another out-of-touch corporate Democrat. The Democratic Socialists of America, of which Ms. Salazar is a member, deployed its full organizing power for her in Brooklyn.

A string of negative headlines about Ms. Salazar in the final weeks of the campaign — suggesting that she had misled reporters and voters about her immigration status, religious background and socioeconomic status — seemed to have little impact.

Still, Lina Newton, a political-science professor at Hunter College, noted the geographic limitations to the grass-roots organizing that has propelled the insurgent candidates to victory. Ms. Nixon, after all, deployed similar tactics in a statewide race to no avail.

“Personal outreach is much more important on a local level,” Professor Newton said.

And on that local level on Thursday, it was potent. Ms. Biaggi, in an interview, gestured to the sneakers on her feet, calling the previous hours “the most exhausting day in my life.”

For Mr. Klein, she had a simple message: “It was a tough fight. And, I should also say, we should thank him for his service,” she said. “But his time is up.”

Conor Lamb decisively won the health care vote in the Pennsylvania special election • VOX

 Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

Health care was a top issue for 52 percent of voters, and they broke hard toward the Democrat.

By Dylan Scott

Conor Lamb beat Rick Saccone in a stunning upset in the Pennsylvania 18th congressional district’s special election on Tuesday night — and, in an equally striking result, health care beat tax cuts.

This race was decided by less than 1,000 votes, so any number of issues could have been decisive. But health care can make a compelling case that it put Lamb over the top.

Public Policy Polling, the left-leaning outfit, released an exit poll on Wednesday morning from the Pennsylvania race. This is what they found:

  • Health care was a top issue for 52 percent of voters: 15 percent said it was the most important issue for them and another 37 percent said that it was very important.

  • The health care voters broke hard toward Lamb: 64 percent of those who said it was their No. 1 issue backed the Democrat, and 62 percent of the people who said it was very important supported him.

  • Obamacare broke even in a district that Donald Trump won by 20 percentage points in 2016: 44 percent of voters supported the law, and 42 percent opposed it.

  • Meanwhile, 52 percent of PA-18 voters said they opposed the Republican plans to repeal the health care law, and only 39 percent approved.

Lamb sounded like a moderate Democrat on health care — he ran ads promising to protect Medicare and health care coverage generally. He said on his website:

The Affordable Care Act has flaws, but it has provided affordable coverage to more than a million Pennsylvanians who were previously uninsured.

Our representatives in Congress should be working together to build on that progress, fix what isn’t working, and make the law better. Instead, Republicans in Congress spent the past year trying to take health insurance away from people with no plan to replace it. Now, costs are likely to go up for many of us, especially those with preexisting conditions. That is unacceptable, and it’s a failure of leadership.

Republican leaders have not even allowed a vote on a bipartisan, common-sense effort to strengthen the ACA and stabilize the markets.

In my conversations over the last few months, Democratic operatives have made it clear they think health care can be a winner for them. Preexisting conditions, in particular, have proven to be a potent message, as well as the mainstays like Medicare. You can also bet that they will make a lot of hay out of any premium spikes we see in the fall, given that experts placed the blame squarely on Trump for the bulk of last year’s increases.

If PA-18 was a test run, it seems like a Democratic message of “Republicans tried to take away your health care, hiked your premiums, and endangered protections for preexisting conditions” can work even in a solid-red district.

The GOP’s counterpunch was supposed to be their tax bill, the signature achievement of the 115th Congress. A month ago, as my colleague Tara Golshan documented, two-thirds of the pro-Saccone TV ads were touting the tax plan.

But they didn’t break through, and Lamb continued to climb in the polls. Saccone was leading by 12 points back in early January; by the beginning of March, Lamb was pulling into the lead.

The tax bill is getting more popular, according to the polling. But it’s still roughly a wash with the public, and it doesn’t appear to have the same power to get people to the voting booth that health care does. It’s not at all clear that Republicans have an alternative plan.

The last-ditch pro-Saccone ads shifted the terrain to immigration, but that doesn’t seem to have worked (and let’s remember the Virginia governor’s race, where the Republican candidate went all-in on a Trump-style attack over immigration and lost in a historic landslide).

We’re still a long way from Election Day, of course. But the policy debate, non-Trump division, is shaping up to be health care versus tax cuts. Right now, you’d rather be running on the former.

Conor Lamb Wins Pennsylvania House Seat, Giving Democrats a Map for Trump Country • NYTimes.com

 

Conor Lamb, a Democrat and former Marine, scored a razor-thin but extraordinary upset in a special House election in southwestern Pennsylvania after a few thousand absentee ballots cemented a Democratic victory in the heart of President Trump’s Rust Belt base.

The Republican candidate, Rick Saccone, may still contest the outcome. But Mr. Lamb’s 627-vote lead Wednesday afternoon appeared insurmountable, given that the four counties in Pennsylvania’s 18th district have about 500 provisional, military and other absentee ballots left to count, election officials said.

That slim margin — out of almost 230,000 ballots cast in a district that Mr. Trump carried by nearly 20 percentage points in 2016 — nonetheless upended the political landscape ahead of November’s midterm elections. It also emboldened Democrats to run maverick campaigns even in deep-red areas where Republicans remain bedeviled by Mr. Trump’s unpopularity.

Republican officials in Washington said they were likely to demand a recount through litigation, and the National Republican Congressional Committee put out a call for voters to report any irregularities in the balloting. Matt Gorman, a spokesman for the committee, said the party was “not conceding anything.”

The battle for a district in suburban and rural areas around Pittsburgh underscored the degree to which Mr. Trump’s appeal has receded across the country. And it exposed the ways in which both parties are weighed down by divisive leaders: Democrats by Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader; Republicans by Mr. Trump and Paul D. Ryan, the speaker of the House.

Just as vividly, the race showed that only one party — the Democrats — appears willing to grapple with the implications of campaigning under its unpopular figurehead.

In Pennsylvania, Mr. Lamb, a 33-year-old former prosecutor from a local Democratic dynasty, presented himself as independent-minded and neighborly, vowing early that he would not support Ms. Pelosi to lead House Democrats and playing down his connections to his national party. He echoed traditional Democratic themes about union rights and economic fairness, but took a more conservative position on the hot-button issue of guns.

Throughout the race, Mr. Lamb said he welcomed support from people who voted for Mr. Trump, and he saved his most blunt criticism for Mr. Ryan, highlighting the speaker’s ambitions to overhaul Social Security and Medicare.

Mr. Lamb’s approach could become a template for a cluster of more moderate Democrats contesting conservative-leaning seats, in states like Arkansas, Kansas and Utah. Democrats in Washington have focused chiefly on Republican-held seats in the upscale suburbs where Mr. Trump is most intensely disliked.

But they are hungry for gains across the political map, and in red areas they have encouraged candidates to put local imperatives above fealty to the national party, even tolerating outright disavowals of Ms. Pelosi.

Representative Cheri Bustos of Illinois, a Democrat who represents a farm and manufacturing district Mr. Trump narrowly carried, said the party’s recruits should feel free to oppose Ms. Pelosi if they choose. She noted that she was helping one such anti-Pelosi candidate, Paul Davis of Kansas, who was in Washington this week raising money.

“If they want somebody else to be a leader, then they ought to express that,” Ms. Bustos said. “I don’t have a problem with that.”

Representative Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania, a veteran Democrat from a neighboring district, said Mr. Lamb had benefited from “buyer’s remorse” among Trump supporters and had wisely tailored his message to the conservative-leaning area.

“This guy has made a lot of promises that aren’t being kept,” Mr. Doyle said of the president.

On the Republican side, Mr. Saccone, 60, campaigned chiefly as a stand-in for Mr. Trump, endorsing the president’s agenda from top to bottom. He campaigned extensively with Mr. Trump and members of his administration and relied heavily on campaign spending from outside Republican groups that attempted to make Ms. Pelosi a central voting issue. Conservative outside groups also sought to promote the tax cuts recently enacted by the party, but found that message had little effect.

Yet the Republicans’ all-hands rescue mission was not enough to salvage Mr. Saccone’s candidacy. Mr. Saccone has not conceded and Republicans have indicated they may challenge the results through litigation, a long-shot strategy.

In a meeting with House Republicans on Wednesday morning, Representative Steve Stivers of Ohio, who leads the party’s campaign committee, described the race as “too close to call,” according to a person who heard his presentation.

But Mr. Ryan and Mr. Stivers also called the election a “wake-up call” for Republican lawmakers, telling them that they could not afford to fall behind on fund-raising, as Mr. Saccone did.

Mr. Lamb raised $3.9 million and spent $3 million, compared with Mr. Saccone’s $900,000 raised and $600,000 spent as of Feb. 21. But Republican outside groups swamped the district. Between conservative “super PACs” and the National Republican Congressional Committee, Mr. Saccone had more than $14 million spent on his behalf.

Mr. Lamb got just over $2 million.

As Republican lawmakers spilled out of their morning conference meeting, few seemed willing to come to grips with how much Mr. Trump is energizing Democrats and turning off independent voters. Some of them even argued that Mr. Saccone had managed to make the race close only thanks to the president’s rally in the district on Saturday.

“The president came in and helped close this race and got it to where it is right now,” said Mr. Ryan.

Others in the conference, however, talked more openly about the political difficulties of breaking with Mr. Trump.

“There is no benefit from running away from the president,” said Representative Patrick T. McHenry of North Carolina, a member of his party’s leadership, noting that Republican candidates need core conservative voters, a constituency that still backs the president, to show up.

“It doesn’t get them the same thing as Lamb opposing Pelosi,” Mr. McHenry said.

Even Mr. Stivers, who has the task of re-electing a contingent of lawmakers from districts that backed Hillary Clinton, declined to say Republicans should feel free to break from Mr. Trump.

“I am not going to tell anybody to be against the president,” he said.

But turnout levels in the district’s suburban precincts proved crucial for Mr. Lamb, and a handful of Republican House veterans conceded this broader vulnerability.

“We know that’s probably where the president’s appeal is the weakest,” said Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a longtime party strategist, adding: “It’s a pattern we’ve seen throughout.”

But he argued that Mr. Trump’s unpopularity in high-income areas would be less of a drag on incumbents who had their own identity and were steeled for difficult races.

Yet even as most Republicans pinned the blame on Mr. Saccone’s fund-raising weakness or held up Mr. Lamb’s willingness to oppose Ms. Pelosi, refusing to fault Mr. Trump, one retiring lawmaker was more blunt.

“Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt,” said Representative Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, a frequent critic of the president. “I’ve been through wave elections before.”

Democrats were buoyant at Mr. Lamb’s victory, viewing his upset as both a harbinger of a November wave and perhaps a sign that the party had overcome some of the most stinging Republican attack lines of the Obama years. Polling in both parties found Ms. Pelosi widely disliked among voters in the district, but the Republican ads featuring her apparently failed to disqualify Mr. Lamb.

Mayor Bill Peduto of Pittsburgh, a Democrat, said Mr. Lamb’s campaign showed that the Republicans’ anti-Pelosi playbook had limitations. The race, he said, should embolden Democrats to contest difficult districts in the Midwest with an economic message that appeals to elements of Mr. Trump’s base.

“Conor Lamb was talking about redevelopment and economic growth, and the Republicans were talking about Nancy Pelosi,” Mr. Peduto said. “It’s like they couldn’t help themselves.”

Mr. Peduto urged the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the electioneering vehicle for House Democrats, to expand its target list in the Trump-aligned Midwest.

“Look through the Rust Belt, in areas that used to be blue,” Mr. Peduto said. “If you’re in a congressional district that’s eight, 10 or 12 points carried by Trump, I would hope that the D.C.C.C. is now putting that in the target.”

To the extent that Democrats attempt further incursions into Trump country, it may test their party’s willingness to tolerate Lamb-like deviation on matters like gun control, and perhaps more widespread rejection of Ms. Pelosi.

Democrats in Washington have already faced criticism from liberal activists for intervening in primary elections, in states like Texas and California, to promote candidates that they view as more electable. Putting forward a slate of moderates in Republican areas could prove more controversial than boosting just one in a special election.

Up to this point, however, Democratic leaders and their campaign tacticians have taken a just-win approach, encouraging candidates to attack Mr. Ryan but taking a far more permissive view of party loyalty than their Republican counterparts.

Clarke Tucker, a Democratic state legislator in Arkansas who is challenging Representative French Hill, a Republican, said on Wednesday that he took Mr. Lamb’s victory as a validation of a throw-the-bums-out message he planned to deliver in his own race. Campaigning in a seat that includes Little Rock and its suburbs, Mr. Tucker said he seldom spoke about Mr. Trump and announced up front that he would not back Ms. Pelosi.

Mr. Tucker, who was aggressively recruited by the D.C.C.C., said that he had told Democrats in Washington that he was “very frustrated with the leadership of the House in both parties” and that no one attempted to dissuade him from delivering that message.

“That district is a lot like the one I’m running in,” Mr. Tucker said of Mr. Lamb’s seat. “I think voters are interested in changing the leadership in Washington.”

Democrats flip seats in N.H., Connecticut special elections • MSNBC Rachel Maddow

Rachel Maddow reports on three state special elections, two of which, in New Hampshire and Connecticut, were formerly Republican-held and flipped by Democrats, and a third, in Kentucky, that was retained by Republicans but saw a 28 point Democratic swing versus Donald Trump's 2016 victory in that district.

Democrat Margaret Good Flips Seat in Florida, the 36th Democratic Flip Since Trump’s Inauguration • Daily Beast

She won by a margin of nearly 8 points in a district that went for Trump by about 5.

Margaret Good won a special election for state representative in Florida’s 72nd district on Tuesday night, the Democratic party’s 36th legislative flip since President Donald Trump’s inauguration last year.

The closely watched race pitted Good against Libertarian Alison Foxall and Republican James Buchanan, whose father Vern represents the area in Congress.

The seat opened up after Republican Alex Miller resigned last year, citing her family and business as reasons. Trump won the district by just five points, where Republicans outnumber Democrats by some 13,000 voters.

Good’s final margin was nearly eight points and over 3,000 votes.

The Democratic party, bullish on gaining momentum before the 2018 midterm elections, set its sights on the Sarasota district as another opportunity to flip a legislative seat nationwide.

Just last week, a Democrat won a special election in Missouri in a district that Trump won by a 61-33 margin—the party’s second flip this year, following a surprise in Wisconsin in January.

Days before Florida’s special election, local polling indicated that Good had a small three-point lead, but a much larger lead among those who had already said they voted.

The Florida race had taken on national prominence in part due to a string of high-profile endorsements. Former Vice President Joe Biden endorsed Good and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley headlined a fundraiser for her recently.

This past weekend, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski rallied supporters on behalf of Buchanan, alongside former deputy campaign manager David Bossie. Voters at the event reportedly broke out into a “lock her up” chant.

“I am here to make sure one thing happens, that Buchanan goes to the State House and we don’t have another Democrat in the office,” Lewandowski reportedly said.