When Republicans take control of the US House of Representatives next month, they will have New York voters to thank for about a third of their national gains.
In the midterm elections, one of the weakest states in the country experienced a relative red wave that resulted in a net gain of three seats and helped give the GOP its razor-thin majority.
But many of those Republican victories were close and came in moderate suburban counties on Long Island and the Hudson Valley.
And the centrist candidates who won have signaled they have little interest in the partisan struggles favored by the GOP’s far-right MAGA wing.
“People from all parties trusted me, saw my work ethic,” Anthony D’Esposito, a former police officer and city councilman who won a Long Island seat, said in an interview with NPR. He added: “The only way you can govern and really connect with a majority of the citizens you serve to get re-elected is to be moderate and not too far right or too far left .”
Mike Lawler, a Republican who won a hard-fought victory in the Hudson Valley, sent a similar message.
Lawler managed to pull off one of the GOP’s biggest mid-term wins by toppling Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who headed the Democratic National Campaign Committee.
But after his win, Lawler said he would work closely with Democrats, including those loathed by his party’s far right, including New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
“I’m just going to be myself and talk to every single member of Congress from AOC to the obvious [Republican] Leader [Kevin] McCarthy,” Lawler said.
Republican leaders must now strike a balance between these new moderates, who say they want bipartisanship, and members of the right-wing House of Representatives, who have promised a scuffle with the Biden administration.
Some of the party’s most prominent Trump-aligned lawmakers, including Reps Marjorie Taylor Greene and Elise Stefanik, have announced they will focus on investigations into the president and his family.
“I’m not saying that I don’t support my party in other areas that they will address,” D’Esposito said when asked about that agenda. “But for me, my focus will be exactly what we fought for, to make America safer, to make America more affordable.”
Republican moderates face “a tightrope walk” in Washington.
Lawrence Levy, who directs the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, says many of New York’s freshmen are wise to hit the middle if they hope to keep their places.
“It’s going to be a balancing act for all of them,” said Levy, noting that many of the conditions that led to New York’s red wave are unlikely to be repeated in 2024. Such as:
- Critics say Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul ran a lackluster campaign, winning by a narrow margin and failing to boost Democratic turnout.
- Democrats have been weighed down by voter fatigue following the scandals that forced former Gov. Andrew Cuomo out of office in late 2021.
- A heavily rigged plan to redistribute seats in the New York House put forward by Democrats was overturned by the courts. That sparked feuds among Democrats, leaving their candidates vulnerable.
According to Levy, Democrats can expect a much more benign environment two years from now.
“Many more Democrats will go to the polls just because they do it in the presidency years,” he said. “If Donald Trump is elected, however unpopular he may be in New York, he will be a magnet for even more Democratic turnout.”
Democrats’ vulnerability in 2024 could be crime
Many observers say one issue that favors Republicans in the midterm elections and could linger into 2024 is public safety and crime.
“The crime count was very effective,” confirmed Jeffrey Pollock, a Democratic agent who worked on campaigns across New York.
Violent crime in the state is still near an all-time low, but Republicans have relentlessly attacked the issue. GOP messaging has been fueled by millions of dollars in external spending and relentless right-wing media coverage.
Pollock said Democrats across the state hadn’t come up with a clear, unified answer: “[The party] didn’t do enough to push back [against] those fears that a lot of these Republican voters had.”
Dan Clark, a veteran political journalist at WMHT, agrees that the Democrats have been outbid on crime and says it points to a deeper vulnerability.
“Republicans had a very strong common message about crime and what they would do about it,” he said. “The Democrats haven’t really come up with a plan. Everyone wants something different.”
Democrats are at odds over what to do on the crime issue. New York City Mayor Eric Adams, a former police officer, has called for some progressive criminal justice reforms to be scaled back or scrapped altogether. Progressive Democrats, who dominate the state legislature in Albany, have opposed these changes.
Clark said these splits point to serious questions about how Democrats will prepare for the 2024 campaign.
“You see a lot of power struggles among the Democrats,” he said. “Until the party finds a way to unite on issues that matter to voters, they will be vulnerable.”