The fight for control of the New York State Senate is in full swing as campaigns enter the final month of operations in anticipation of the November 6 election.
The Republicans hold a slight advantage in the Senate, 33-29. The Democrats briefly held control of the Senate for a year for the first time in decades until the 2009 leadership crisis, which culminated in a return to Republican leadership.
The New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) is likely to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to help Democratic candidates in the most competitive districts, all of who are being significantly outspent by their Republican opponents.
The union will take advantage of campaign finance laws that allow independent expenditures of unlimited amounts as long as there is no coordination with campaigns. If NYSUT wished to make contributions directly to campaigns, the limit would be $10,300.
The Daily News reported NYSUT could spend as much as $500,000 on Senator Joseph Addabbo’s re-election campaign, who is in a competitive race against Republican Councilman Eric Ulrich.
NYSUT reportedly is also considering spending $250,000 to help the Democrats win the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Republican Senator Jim Alessi. Monroe County Legislator Ted O’Brien is being heavily outspent in that race by Republican Assemblyman Sean Hanna.
In a financial disclosure report last week, the Senate Republicans reported having $3.6 million in cash on hand, with the Senate Democrats reporting a measly $718,910 in their war chest as of July.
The Republican’s financial advantage is also apparent at the campaign level, where Councilman Eric Ulrich has raised $299,000 to Senator Addabbo’s $150,311.
The Republican Senate candidates’ strategy of using their overwhelming financial advantage to fund direct mail and television advertisements promising tax cuts will be successful in winning over independent voters.
To regain control of the Senate, the Democrats need a unified financial, media, and grassroots operation that can only be inspired by one leader. Governor Andrew Cuomo is the only person who has the popularity to deliver independent swing voters to candidates like Addabbo and O’Brien.
Why hasn’t Cuomo displayed more leadership over the Democratic effort to regain control of the Senate?
There has been wide speculation that Cuomo is running for President in 2016. If we take this as fact, it becomes clear that a divided state legislature (a Republican Senate and Democratic Assembly) helps Cuomo remain moderate for a general election in 2016.
If the Democrats gained control of the Senate, Assembly, and executive branch simultaneously, the Democratic legislative leadership would push a fiscally and socially liberal agenda that would be a political liability for Governor Cuomo should he gain the Democratic nomination for President in 2016.
Cuomo’s immense popularity and political influence have caused Democratic leaders and candidates to become fearful of publicly calling for Cuomo to be a more active participant in the Democratic campaign to gain control of the Senate.
I urge Governor Cuomo to rally support for his Democratic team in this final month of campaigning. Doing so would not only result in policies he supports being enacted, but will also help him politically.
Before tacking center for the general election, Governor Cuomo must first claim victory of the Democratic nomination, which could be crowded with party heavyweights like Hilary Clinton, Mark Warner, and Joe Biden.
Democratic primary voters will not punish Cuomo, but praise him as a strong leader who unified his state around policies he believed in.