Incumbents Remain, Republicans Reign

New Yorkers who were hoping to “throw the bums out” are likely re-making their guest beds, as the majority of incumbents in the state are still in office after this 2010 midterm election.

It was not incumbents, as was widely expected, but mostly Democrats who lost seats in New York and around the country. And while many news outlets are reporting that this was because of President Barack Obama’s missteps during his first two years, some see the party shift as simply historical.

“There are many logical comparisons you could make,” said Professor Joel Lefkowitz, chairman of the political science department at SUNY New Paltz.

The 1994 midterm election under President Bill Clinton is a good comparison to make, according to Lefkowitz. The former President came into office in 1992 with a Democratic majority in both houses, only to lose both the House of Representatives and the Senate to Republicans in the midterms.

This is similar to what happened this year, though Democrats did narrowly hold on to the U.S. Senate.

“Democrats [in 1992 and 2008] held disproportionate power, so there was partisan hostility” said Lefkowitz. “In midterms, the President is held accountable — his party is held accountable.”

And held accountable they were. Republicans reclaimed five U.S. House seats they held in New York before the 2006 and 2008 Democratic waves; the New York state Senate lost six Democratic seats as of press time Friday; and the state Assembly lost at least seven Democratic seats, according to several news outlets.

In the 1994 midterms, however, Clinton had an edge when dealing with his opposing party, according to Nancy Kassop, a political science professor at New Paltz. Obama, she said, will not have it so easy.

“Clinton had the ability to forge relationships with Republican lawmakers — Obama doesn’t have that,” she said.

That, according to Kassop, is partially because of an increasingly intractable political atmosphere.

“The political environment is coarser, much more polarized,” she said. “Nearly 20 years later and it’s worse than ever … The Democrats are on the defensive and the Republicans are presumably going to block everything so Obama does not win a second term …  I find it astonishing.”

Kassop was referring to a recent statement made by U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in which he recommended making the GOP’s number one priority ousting Obama in 2012.

Even with their losses, however, Democrats still hold the majority of power in New York. Democratic candidate Andrew Cuomo won the governor’s race with a substantial mandate, incumbent Democrat Thomas Dinapoli narrowly clinched the race for state comptroller, and Democratic state Sen. Eric Schneiderman claimed victory in the race for attorney general.

Democrats remain in control of the state Assembly. The fate of the state Senate remains uncertain.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, if the state Senate does flip Republican, it will be part of a national anti-Democratic trend.

Republicans now have at least 680 more legislative seats than they did before Tuesday’s election, according to the Conference, and in 26 state governments nationwide, Republicans have majorities in both legislative houses.

Emily Atkin

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