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Good morning from the campaign trail…

With just over three weeks until voters head to the polls, these are, as they say, interesting times. 

In New York’s race for Governor, Marist College’s latest polling had Governor Kathy Hochul up 10 points against Republican challenger Lee Zeldin, a narrower margin than other major polls. Team Zeldin is claiming “Zelmentum!” noting their man has gained 7 points since a late September Siena College poll had him down 17 points. Another poll, of Long Island voters, for Newsday showed Zeldin leading Hochul 48%-46%.  

Of course, some spectacular misses over the past few cycles raises doubts for many about the accuracy of polling. Not all predictions are the same. Some rely exclusively on hard data and quantitative analysis while others balance for historical precedent, national political trends, and other factors. Groups like FiveThirtyEight are poll-based predictors, leaning heavily on statistical analysis in their models. Politico and their Election Forecast integrate data into their predictions but take a broader array of factors into account. 

The models offer different predictions: FiveThirtyEight gives Democrats a 3-in-4 chance to keep control of the United States Senate whereas Politico has it as a Toss-Up. Politico and other “election forecasters” talk to sources, are on the ground in swing states, and look at historical trends when evaluating races.  “This cycle, I’ve tended to trust the forecasters more than the polls on Wisconsin and Ohio, where they’ve had a more bearish outlook for Democrats,” offered Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight. Given the recent trends of underrepresenting Republican voters, the predictions of forecasters who may be more in tune with the broader public will carry more weight. In 2020, FiveThrityEight had Trump beating Biden by less than a point in Ohio; Trump would go on to win by 8 points. In 2022, the site has Tim Ryan up less than a point over Republican JD Vance so the election in this state will be a good indication if the poll adjustments following 2020 were worthwhile. 

Of course, there are still campaigns to be run over the next few weeks and, in a close race, that will matter. 

Let’s look at the money in NY:

The Republican Governors Association recently gave the Zeldin campaign $450,000 in a sign that they believe the race is still winnable. Zeldin has been severely outspent by Governor Hochul who has raised record amounts of money for her campaign. Both candidates have accepted their fair share of money from wealthy donors and outside PACs. $7.6 million of Governor Hochul’s campaign cash came from donors who gave $10,000 or more. Zeldin-backed groups such as Safe Together New York and Save Our State have raised over $5 million, including an eye-popping $4 million from cosmetics giant Ronald Lauder. Outside spending from pro-Zeldin super PACs has helped even the spending between Hochul and Zeldin going into the stretch.

Governor Hochul also has high profile donors including Steven Spielberg and his wife Kate Capshaw who were two of the 41 donors to give the individual maximum contribution of $47,100. Other individuals who have a max contribution to Hochul were Bloomberg co-founder Thomas Secunda and his wife Cynthia, investment banker Garrett Kirk and wife Clay, and former Trump finance Guru, Paul Atkins. Zeldin had 18 max contributions from the likes of handbag manufacturer Jack Chehebar and his wife Marilyn, commercial property owner Stephen Meringoff, bank designer Shirley Hill, and Developer Arnold Gumowitz. 

As of last week, Governor Hochul had $10.9 million on hand compared to Zeldin’s 4.5 million. 

New York also has competitive races in the State Senate where the redistricting chaos has created some interesting storylines and new districts. The electoral reality for many incumbent Democrats in the Senate is that getting through a primary is the hard part. That was certainly the case for Senate Energy Committee Chairman Kevin Parker who faced a hard-fought primary against David Alexis and the Democratic Socialists of America but now is expected to win handily in the general. Nonetheless, there are some competitive races. Here’s what we are keeping an eye on: 
  • District 2- Senator Mario Mattera, the incumbent Republican, is running against Democrat and majority leader of the Suffolk County Legislature, Susan Berland in one of the most competitive districts in the state. Under the old electoral lines, the district was +7 Trump but under the new lines, is just +1.  
  • District 5- Senator John Brooks, the incumbent Democrat, originally announced his retirement after redistricting turned his former 8th District much more red. A few days later, he announced his intent to run in the new 5th District. Still, Brooks has his work cut out for him against former Nassau County Legislator Steven Rhoads in a district that was +3 Trump in 2020.  
  • District 7- Democratic Senator Anna Kaplan, Chair of the Committee on Commerce, Economic Development, and Small Business, is defending her seat against former Republican State Senator Jack Martins. Kaplan will likely prevail in the race given the makeup of the district (+12 Biden in 2020), but the race is closer than the first-term Senator would have preferred.  
  • District 38- Senator Elijah Reichlin-Melnick, the incumbent Democrat, will have a rematch of his 2020 race against Republican challenger William Weber. Reichlin-Melnick won in 2020 by 6 points but since that time, the district has become more purple.  
  • District 41- In the mid-Hudson Valley, redistricting has resulted in two incumbent Senators running against each other. Michelle Hinchey, the freshman Democrat who previously represented the 46th district, will face Republican Senator Susan Serino, who currently represents the 41st Senate District. The demographic changes from redistricting certainly benefit Hinchey.  
  • District 42- This district was +1 Biden in the 2020 election under the old lines but is now +3.2 Trump. Monroe Town Council Member Dan Houle and state Republicans are hoping that shift is enough to unseat incumbent Democrat James Skoufis. While Houle has the demographic advantage, Skoufis’ $1 million in campaign funds dwarfs Houle’s $28,000. 
Read more on the key races in New York State Senate here. Democrats will keep control, the question is just by how much.

Across the country, the interesting times continue as control of both the Senate and the House hangs in the balance.
Specifically in New York, the botched redistricting process led to more competitive seats and could ultimately be the reason Democrats lose control of the House. Democrats in the state legislature were set to draw lines that could have solidified Democratic majorities in the House delegation for the next decade. Instead, they find themselves running competitive races in places they never expected to do so. Republicans only need to flip five Democratic seats across the country to regain the majority and they are targeting three seats in the Hudson Valley alone- NY 17, NY 18, and NY 19. We previewed those three races in last week’s memo. 

While GOP control of the House continues to look likely, the Senate is still anyone’s guess. What we do know is that it will come down to the individual candidates and their campaigns. Candidate quality matters much more in statewide Senate races than in local House districts where voters are more susceptible to partisanship and broader political trends. Republican candidates such as Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and Blake Masters in Arizona have both started to close the gap in polling as their races become tighter. For Democrats, Tim Ryan in Ohio and incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada are sources of hope, with both running more competitive races than some expected in those states. 

In Wisconsin, the last debate was as fiery as expected with incumbent Republican Senator Ron Johnson fighting for his political life against Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes. Johnson is consistently one of the Senators with the lowest approval ratings and Democrats hope that this year, and this candidate, can finally send Johnson packing. Lt. Governor Barnes has focused on Johnson’s extremism regarding the 2020 election and some of his comments regarding Jan. 6th. “He tried to send fake electors to the vice president, said his involvement lasted a matter of seconds as if you get to use the five-second rule for election subversion,” said Barnes.

There was also a debate in Georgia between Senator Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker. Walker was eager to portray Warnock as a far-left politician, saying, “This race ain’t about me. It’s about what Raphael Warnock and Joe Biden have done to you and your family.” Warnock shot back, “We will see time and time again tonight, as we have already seen, that my opponent has a problem with the truth. And just because he says something doesn’t mean it’s true. One thing I have not done, I’ve never pretended to be a police officer and I’ve never threatened a shootout with the police.” Walker has previously indicated he is a member of law enforcement and even flashed a badge on stage before being admonished by the moderator for using a prop. 

As we mentioned, trends are not looking as positive for House Democrats as races across the country come into sharper focus. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is not running any ads in 6 of the 14 GOP districts that Biden carried in 2020 in a sign that Democrats are more concerned about defending incumbents than going on offense. Massive cash infusions from GOP PACs have put many races out of reach for Democrats who are unable to compete with that level of spending. Acknowledging they do not have the resources to fully fund all the races they would like to, one Democrat strategist conceded, “I don’t think it is hyperbole to say at this point that money is going to make the difference.” 

The inflation report that was released on Thursday does not make life any easier for Democrats. Inflation rose higher than expected in September and prices are still the highest they have been in 40 years. President Biden acknowledged that inflation is happening but tried to position his party as the better answer: “If Republicans win, inflation’s going to get worse. It’s that simple… Democrats are working to bring down the cost of things they talk about around the kitchen table, from prescription drugs, to health insurance, to energy bills and so much more.” No wonder some Democratic strategists think Biden needs to do more.

Another emerging issue for the Biden White House is the rejection by the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the last minute deal that averted a national rail strike in September. In a statement, BMWED President Tony Cardwell said “The majority of the BMWED membership rejected the tentative national agreement and we recognize and understand that result. I trust that railroad management understands that sentiment as well. Railroaders are discouraged and upset with working conditions and compensation and hold their employer in low regard.” A new deal will have to be reworked to avoid a potential strike of railroad workers and given the timing, Congress may have to find a solution during the lame duck. 

There is a growing chorus of voices in government calling for the U.S. to reassess our relationship with Saudi Arabia following the decision of OPEC to cut oil production, a move that benefits Russia in the midst of their war in Ukraine. Senate Foreign Relations Chair Bob Menendez is the highest ranking member to express this sentiment, offering, “The United States must immediately freeze all aspects of our cooperation with Saudi Arabia, including any arms sales and security cooperation beyond what is absolutely necessary to defend U.S. personnel and interests. As Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I will not green-light any cooperation with Riyadh until the Kingdom reassesses its position with respect to the war in Ukraine. Enough is enough.” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer released a statement that was critical of the Kingdom, but did not go as far as Menendez. This is another issue where Democrats, and voters, have doubts about Biden’s decisions.

On Capitol Hill….

Congress is in recess until after the election. The Biden Administration is trying to take advantage of what could be the last few days of a Democratic majority in both chambers of Congress. Biden and Senate Democrats, who have already confirmed a record number of federal judges, have continued hearings to appoint federal judges even with most Senators having gone home. Senator Dick Durbin, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was one of two senators to attend a hearing for six of Biden’s nominees. If Republicans were to regain control of the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed to stall Biden’s nominations, hence the rush to get as many done as possible before November 8th. 

One piece of legislation to watch during recess is the National Defense Authorization Act, which is due by year’s end. The version passed in the House was an $850 billion package that included pay raises for military personnel. Senators are sorting through the more than 900 amendment proposals to the bill dealing with a wide variety of geopolitical issues including U.S. support for Taiwan and more poignantly, aid to Ukraine. Basically anything having to do with defense or our military is in play so there is much work to be done to see which issues make the final cut. 

The effects of Hurricane Ian are still being felt across Florida and Senator Marco Rubio is asking for a $33 billion recovery package. Rubio, like his colleague and fellow Florida Senator Rick Scott, wants a stand-alone vote soon on the package without any accompanying legislation. Given that Congress is not scheduled to return until after midterm elections, the package will have to wait until then, where it will likely become a major topic during the Appropriations discussions. In the interim, FEMA maintains a disaster relief fund that has enough money to keep Florida afloat while Congress figures out a long-term solution. 

Finally, a fond farewell to a few friends of the firm: Judge Matthew J. Murphy III, who served on the bench for 13 years, presiding over some of Niagara County’s highest-profile cases, and holds the distinction of having been Niagara County’s longest-tenured district attorney. Matt was responsible for my first lobbying client.

 Also,  Bob Starck, former Commodore of the Niagara Sailing Club, a beloved husband, father, and sailor who taught me how to fly a spinnaker and so much more. 

As well as legend of the screen and stage Angela Lansbury, who is best-known as America’s favorite TV sleuth in “Murder, She Wrote”. She was 96.

The mother-and-daughter duo behind the creation called him “Pan Solo”.

-Jack O’Donnell




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