Clinton won in 40 of NY’s 63 Senate districts, but GOP coalition remains in control

Leave NO District untouched #Midterm2018Matters! #staywoke

Pres-by-LD: Daily Kos Elections’ project to calculate the 2016 presidential results for every state legislative seat in the nation hits New York, a heavily Democratic state, but one where a coalition of Republicans and rogue Democrats run the state Senate. You can find our master list of states here, which we’ll be updating as we add new states; you can also find all our data from 2016 and past cycles here.

Hillary Clinton carried New York 59 percent to 37 percent, a drop from Obama’s 63-35 win in 2012 but a strong margin nonetheless. Clinton also won 40 of New York’s 63 state Senate districts, trading 16 Obama seats for only one Romney district, but still taking a clear majority of the chamber. Democrats, meanwhile, did win a nominal 32-31 majority in the Senate last November.

But when the legislative session convened, the Senate’s leader was still the same man who was in charge last year, Republican John Flanagan. That’s because eight Democrats belong to a renegade group known as the Independent Democratic Conference, which has voted to keep the Republicans in power since the 2012 elections, while a ninth Democrat, Simcha Felder, outright caucuses with the GOP. As a result, the GOP-IDC-Felder alliance holds a huge 40 to 23 majority, with one heavily Democratic seat, SD-30, vacant (we assign any vacant seat to the party that last held it). The entire Senate is up for election every two years.

While members of the IDC love to claim that they’re true progressives (one member recently had the chutzpah to hand out fliers to angry constituents suggesting that the initials “IDC” actually stood for “Immigrant Defense Coalition”), the coalition has helped the GOP block progressive policies like a state-level DREAM Act, which would provide tuition assistance to undocumented immigrant students.

The arrangement has worked quite well for the IDC members, who enjoy committee chairmanships and vice-chairmanships (and salary bumps that come along with them), as well as larger staffs. In 2014, progressives and unhappy members of the Queens Democratic machine made an effort to unseat two New York City-based IDC members, junta leader Jeff Klein and rank-and-filer Tony Avella, in the Democratic primary, but both challenges fell short.

However, while Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio talked about how they’d love to have a Democratic Senate, Cuomo has always made it little secret that he’s more comfortable with the GOP in charge of the upper chamber, while de Blasio—a supposed progressive expontent—actually endorsed both Klein and Avella. Klein won renomination 67-33, while Avella narrowly hung on. Since then, the IDC has picked up three more members in heavily Democratic New York City seats.

We’ll start with a look at the districts of those nine renegade Democrats. Simcha Felder, who is not a member of the IDC, does sit in a Brooklyn-based seat that has backed Republicans in presidential races. His SD-17 went for Trump 53-45, which was actually a bit of a swing to the left from Romney’s 58-41 win, but it’s still pretty red. Felder represents a constituency with a very large Orthodox Jewish population—his district has been nicknamed the “super-Jewish district“—and Democrats maintain a strong advantage in voter registration there. (This also relates to why Felder doesn’t just switch parties: His constituents remain Democrats in order to influence primaries in New York City. Keeping the Democratic ballot line thus helps Felder stay in office.)

The seat narrowly elected a Republican in a 2012 special election, but Felder unseated him by a massive 66-33 margin just a few months later. Felder quickly joined the GOP caucus, and he faced no major party opposition whatsoever in 2014 and 2016; Felder even ran last year as both the Democratic and Republican nominee. Many of Felder’s constituents send their children to yeshivas (Jewish religious schools), and Felder justifies his alliance with the GOP largely because he argues that they will give yeshivas more state funding. Felder still nominally identifies as a Democrat, though, and he even outright said last November that he’d caucus with the side that offered him the “best deal.”

However, the eight members of the IDC all represent seats that backed Clinton by double digits. The reddest IDC-held district is David Carlucci’s Rockland County-dominated SD-38 north of New York City, which still voted for Clinton 54-43, a small increase from Obama’s 54-45 win. David Valesky’s Syracuse-area SD-53 in Upstate New York backed Clinton by a comparable 54-40 margin, a drop from Obama’s 62-36 win.

But after that, the IDC-held seats get really blue really fast. Trump’s next-best seat is SD-23, which includes part of Brooklyn and the bluer areas of Staten Island. This district, which is held by IDC founding member Diane Savino (who is also Klein’s girlfriend), backed Clinton 61-36. IDC ringleader Klein’s Bronx-based SD-34 supported Clinton 74-24, and she even exceeded 90 percent of the vote in two IDC-held seats, SD-31 and SD-20. We’ll have a whole lot more to say about the IDC—and the possibility that mainstream Democrats could defeat some of them in 2018 primaries, in a future Digest. But it’s worth noting that the fact that so many of these IDC-held seats are so blue means that they’re likely full of primary voters who are furious with Trump and won’t appreciate being represented by people who are allied with The Donald’s party.

However, even if Felder and all the IDC members returned to the fold or were replaced by mainstream Democrats, Team Red would still have a strong chance to keep the chamber. As we noted earlier, Republicans hold 31 of the Senate’s 63 districts, and nine Republicans represent Clinton seats. While New York has favored Democrats at all levels for decades, the Republicans have run the Senate for generations. The one time the Democratic caucus were in charge of the Senate in recent memory came in 2009 and 2010, but that period was marred by dysfunction and ultimately defined by a June 2009 coup, where two Democrats crossed party lines and gave the GOP a brief 32-30 majority. The two wayward members eventually returned to the fold, but the GOP retook the chamber in the 2010 wave.

To protect their restored majority, Team Red, with a sign-off from Cuomo and the Democratic-led state Assembly, passed a gerrymander that also added a 63rd seat to the chamber. Republicans surprisingly lost the majority in 2012, but Felder and a few Democrats from the IDC, which had been formed the year before, voted to keep them in power, and they’ve been by the GOP’s side ever since.

One way to illustrate how effective the GOP was in drawing the lines is to sort each seat in each chamber by Trump’s margin of victory over Clinton and see how the seat in the middle—known as the median seat—voted. While Clinton won the state 59-37, the median seat backed her by a considerably smaller 54-43 margin, an 11-point advantage for the GOP.

In most states, that wouldn’t be a huge obstacle for Democrats: For instance, only four congressional Republicans represent U.S. House seats that backed Clinton by double-digit margins. However, even without the IDC aiding them, New York’s legislative Republicans benefit from ticket splitting. Of the nine Republicans from Clinton districts, three of them represent seats more Democratic than the median seat.

Frustratingly, Democrats didn’t even challenge the incumbent who represents the bluest GOP-held seat. Last fall, even as the Rochester-area SD-55 voted 56-38 Clinton (after going 57-41 for Obama), Republican Rich Funke won a second term with no opposition. Democrats did challenge Republican Joseph Robach in the nearby SD-56; however, Robach won his eighth term 63-37, even though his seat went from 60-38 Obama to a still sizable 54-41 Clinton win. And in Long Island’s open SD-07, Republican Elaine Phillips won her first term 51-49 even though her seat swung leftward, going from 54-45 Obama to 55-42 Clinton.

One of the silver linings for Senate Democrats last year was that they did make other gains on Long Island. The GOP began 2016 holding every Senate seat located in Nassau and Suffolk Counties, but in the spring, Democrat Todd Kaminsky pulled off a very narrow win in the special election to succeed convicted GOP Senate leader Dean Skelos. Kaminsky won the general election by a stronger 52-47 margin as his SD-09 went from 54-46 Obama to 53-44 Clinton.

In November, a Democrat also picked up the neighboring SD-08, with John Brooks unseating Republican Michael Venditto by just 50.1-49.9. This seat went from 56-43 Obama to a narrow 50-47 Clinton win, but the incumbent was hurt after his father, Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto, was indicted for corruption less than a month before Election Day. The one Senate seat that went from Romney to Clinton is also located on Long Island. SD-05 flipped from 50-49 Romney to 50-47 Clinton, but longtime GOP incumbent Carl Marcellino fended off a challenge from Democrat James Gaughran 50.6-49.4.

Oh yeah, New York has a state Assembly too! Republicans lost the speaker’s chair in 1974, and they’re unlikely to regain it anytime soon, as Democrats hold a 108-42 majority. Long Island Assemblyman Fred Thiele identifies as an independent but caucuses with Democrats and has won repeatedly on the Democratic ballot line; for our purposes, we count him as a Democrat.

The Assembly is almost the complete inverse of the Senate. Ticket-splitting benefits Democrats here: Clinton won 99 of the Assembly’s 150 seats, and 12 Democrats represent Trump districts while only four Republicans hold Clinton turf. The reddest Democratic-held seat is actually Trump’s second-best Assembly district in the state. Democrat Dov Hikind hails from a Brooklyn seat that backed Trump 69-28, a small shift from Romney’s 76-24 margin. But Hikind, whose seat overlaps with Simcha Felder’s Senate district, is one of the most conservative Democrats in the chamber, and he has a knack for making news for all the wrong reasons.

The Republican in the bluest Clinton seat is Raymond Walter, whose Buffalo-area AD-146 went from 51-48 Obama to Clinton 52-44. Democrats also got to draw the lines in the Assembly to lock in their strong majority. Clinton carried the median seat 59-37, comparable to her statewide performance.


AL-Sen: Oh, are you effing kidding us? Republican Sen. Luther Strange, who deceived the public as to whether he was investigating disgraced former Gov. Robert Bentley in his former capacity as Alabama’s attorney general, is now griping that the whole Bentley affair represents “politics at its worst.” It’s not especially clear what exactly Strange was complaining about. But what is actually “the worst” is that Strange sought a coveted appointment from the very man his office was probing for misuse of state resources while pretending he wasn’t looking into the governor at all, only to see his successor as attorney general quickly confirm the investigation—and to see Bentley resign from office this week.

Strange also complained that his critics are a “disgruntled group of people,” but he may soon find out just how far disgruntlement goes. A number of prominent Republicans are mounting primary challenges to Strange, and another one just added his name to the list: state Sen. Trip Pittman. The fact that quite a few fellow Republicans have their knives out for Strange should have him worrying, not whining.

WI-Sen: While a number of Republicans have expressed interest in challenging Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, no one has taken the plunge yet. Late last year, state Rep. Dale Kooyenga didn’t rule out a bid, and he sounds quite interested now. In a long and mostly positive profile at Oxy, Kooyenga acknowledges that he’s considering, and says he’ll make his decision after the state budget is done in the summer. Kooyenga, a veteran of Iraq, is the vice chair of the state House Finance Committee, and it sounds like he’d have some useful connections if he ran statewide. However, several wealthy Republicans and fellow state legislators are considering, and whomever ends up with the GOP nomination will likely need to get through an expensive primary first.


AL-Gov: A few weeks ago, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said that he would probably decide if he’d seek the GOP nomination by the end of April. In the brief amount of time since then Alabama got a new governor, with Robert Bentley finally resigning to avoid serious charges from his attempt to cover up an affair with a staffer, and fellow Republican Kay Ivey becoming the state’s new chief executive. However, the shakeup doesn’t seem to have altered Battle’s plans, since he reiterated that he’ll decide by the end of the month.

However, another Republican does sound a bit less likely to run. Former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville set up a campaign at the end of March, and said he’d make up his mind in a few weeks. But in a recent interview, Tuberville had nothing but good things to say about Ivey, characterizing her as “a great lady,” and adding that “[s]he has an excellent staff. I know quite a few people on her staff. They will do a really good job. I’m looking for some really good things in the last few weeks from the legislative group, making some moves to make this state a lot better.” Tuberville doesn’t appear to have addressed his own plans and he may still be intending to run for governor, but this isn’t the type of thing candidates usually say about the people they’re trying to unseat. For her part, Ivey maintains that she hasn’t decided if she’ll run for a full term next year.

GA-Gov: Georgia’s 2018 election to succeed term-limited Republican Gov. Nathan Deal is likely to draw heated interest from candidates, but we can at least cross one big name off the list. First-term GOP Sen. David Perdue seemed quite unlikely to run for governor, although he hadn’t formally ruled it out yet. However, Perdue just recently told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Kyle Wingfield that he was “a firm no,” despite having been encouraged to run.

ME-Gov: In a surprise, state Treasurer Terry Hayes announced on Fridaythat she would run to succeed termed-out GOP Gov. Paul LePage next year as an independent, making her the first credible candidate to declare. Hayes served four terms in the state House as a Democrat, and became the party’s assistant minority leader in 2010. But in 2012, after she narrowly won re-election, the Democratic caucus chose Mark Eves to serve as speaker, passing over Hayes and two other representatives. Hayes ended up endorsing left-leaning independent Elliot Cutler in the 2014 gubernatorial race, even though Democrats feared he’d draw too much support from Democratic nominee Michael Michaud and secure LePage another term.

Later that year, after LePage was re-elected, Hayes ran against Democratic state Treasurer Neria Douglass. In Maine, the treasurer is picked by the legislature; while Democrats maintained a narrow edge in the House, Hayes secured enough support from Republicans and a few Democrats to beat Douglass. Last year, Hayes was re-elected the same way against ex-Democratic state Rep. Adam Goode.

Independent candidates often do well in Maine gubernatorial elections, and it’s possible that Hayes could be a major factor next year. Last fall, Maine voted to implement an instant-runoff system, meaning that independents would no longer need to fear playing spoiler. However, it’s not clear if the system will be implemented in 2018. The law is tied up in litigation, with the state attorney general’s office asking the Maine Supreme Court to give an opinion about whether instant-runoff is constitutional. The court heard arguments on Friday, but it’s anyone’s guess how long it will take to resolve this.


FL-27: Longtime Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has never had trouble winning re-election in her heavily Cuban-American Miami congressional district, but after Trump’s landslide 59-39 loss there in 2016 made it his worst House district that Republicans hold, Democrats are plotting to give the 15-term congresswoman a stiff challenge in 2018. On Thursday, Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez became the second Democrat to jump into the race against Ros-Lehtinen, and she immediately made clear that she would try to tie the incumbent to Trump. Rosen Gonzalez is a college professor whose 2015 commission race was the only election she’s ever run in, but she has reportedly already met with the DCCC.

Rosen Gonzalez joins Democratic businessman Scott Fuhrman, who declared his candidacy early in April. Fuhrman was Team Blue’s 2016 nominee, and his 55-45 loss marked Ros-Lehtinen’s closest election since she first won office in 1989, but Fuhrman is unlikely to be the first choice of national Democrats. While he self-funded a substantial amount of his campaign, Fuhrman’s prior history of several arrests, most seriously for driving under the influence with a loaded handgun in his car, opened him up to sharp attacks last cycle. Given how hostile this district was to Trump and how the 2016 result seemingly tarnished Ros-Lehtinen’s aura of invincibility, even more Democratic candidates could look at running here.

GA-06: The independent pollster Opinion Savvy has released a final poll of this Tuesday’s race, but it’s not all that different from their survey three weeks ago. Here’s how the candidates stack up, with trendlines in parentheses:

Jon Ossoff (D): 42 (40)

Karen Handel (R): 21 (20)

Judson Hill (R): 11 (10)

Bob Gray (R): 11  (10)

Dan Moody (R): 9 (8)

Other: 3 (7)

Undecided: 3 (6)

These numbers would suggests that a first-round knockout for Ossoff is out of reach, but we’ve seen so little reliable polling here that this one survey simply isn’t enough to go on. Meanwhile, in hypothetical runoff matchups with the top four Republicans, Ossoff leads Handel 44-42, Gray 46-45, and Hill 47-44, while Moody edges him 48-45. Those numbers are actually somewhat optimistic, because the conventional wisdom has coalesced around the first round being Ossoff’s best chance to score a victory, but if he’s already as high as 47 in a potential second round, that would put a win within reach even in a one-on-one matchup.

Republicans are evidently still worried about Ossoff winning outright on Tuesday, because the NRCC has dropped yet another TV ad featuring supposedly reg’lar folks howling about what a raving DC libruhl Pelosi puppet liar Ossoff is. They also seem to channel a racist local mayor (the guy who said people wouldn’t vote for a name like “Ossoff” because it might seem “Muslim” or “Lebanese”) in declaring that “Jon Ossoff is not one of us.” Could you dog-whistle any louder, GOP? (Ossoff is Jewish, so welcome to Trump’s America.)

Much more awesomely, the DCCC is answering back with a radio ad that features a man you all know and love: Samuel L. Jackson. The spot is geared toward black voters (Jackson is introduced as a “Morehouse man,” a reference to the historically black college in Atlanta he attended), and the script is pretty fantastic, though you’ll really want to listen to it to get the full Samuel L. Jackson flavor:

“Hi. I’m Samuel L. Jackson. There’s a special congressional election on April 18th. What can you do? Go vote! Your vote goes a long way toward setting things right in this country. Vote for the Democratic Party. Stop Donald Trump, the man who encourages racial and religious discrimination, and sexism. Remember what happened the last time people stayed home. We got stuck with Trump. We have to channel the great vengeance and furious anger we have for this administration into votes at the ballot box. Do your friends and family a favor. Hell, do yourself a favor and vote on April 18th, and make sure to vote for the Democratic Party.”

Yes, he delivers the bolded line exactly the way you’d wish. Now let’s hope voters respond in kind.


WA State Senate: Despite only controlling a minority of 24 of 49 seats in Democratic-leaning Washington’s state Senate, Republicans run the upper chamber thanks to one renegade Democrat who caucuses with them, state Sen. Tim Sheldon. Mainstream Democrats have a fighting chance to recapture power this November in the 45th state Senate District special election to replace deceased GOP state Sen. Andy Hill. If they win, Team Blue would regain unified control over state government thanks to their hold on the state House and governor’s office. (Meanwhile, New York Senate Democrats would kill to have just one wayward member to worry about.)

Democrats have united behind senior King County prosecutor Manka Dhingra, but Republicans have struggled to find a candidate. Interim GOP state Sen. Dino Rossi, who narrowly lost high-profile races for governor and Senate in 2004, 2008, and 2010, announced he wouldn’t run. Instead, Rossi has thrown his backing to Jinyoung Lee Englund, who once worked on the staff of eastern Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, but has no track record of winning electoral office and could struggle to overcome her party label.

Located in Seattle’s northeastern suburbs, this highly educated seat favored Hillary Clinton by a 65-28 landslide after having supported Barack Obama by a still hefty 58-40 in 2012. That makes it particularly hostile turf for Republicans, especially in an era where Donald Trump appears to have energized Democratic downballot mobilization. Indeed, a March PPP poll found Dhingra leading even Rossi 46-40, while Trump had an abysmal 30 percent approval rating in the district. Against a less-established foe like Englund, Dhingra’s chances might look even better.


The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, and James Lambert.

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