New York's Strong Showing Boosts GOP House Gains

Last week’s Republican takeover of the House of Representatives was a broad national victory.  Republicans won at least one seat previously held by a Democrat in at least 30 states, including districts on both coasts.  The party also saw significant gains in the plains states and the Deep South; in these two regions the GOP won 25 seats of the total 63 taken from Democrats. 

While these victories were largely expected, the Republican Party’s performance in the Northeast came as a bit of a surprise.  The party took back 14 seats in this traditionally Democratic stronghold, with nearly half of these restorations occurring in an unlikely state:  New York.

New York’s GOP House delegation grew by five members on election night, tied with Ohio and Pennsylvania for the greatest recapturing of any state.  New York may soon take the title all for itself, however, if slim leads hold for Republicans Randy Altschuler in NY–1 and Anne Marie Buerkle in NY–25. 

Incumbent Democrat Tim Bishop was declared the winner last Tuesday in the first congressional district on Long Island, but a re-canvass of voting machines in Suffolk County gave the lead to Altschuler, albeit a slim one of just under 400 votes.  Military and absentee ballots have yet to be counted in the district and will likely determine the outcome.  In the 25th district, Buerkle holds a 700-vote lead over incumbent Democrat Dan Maffei.  Maffei was one of two central-New York Democrats to change his vote on President Obama’s health care bill.  The other, Rep. Michael Arcuri, lost his bid for re-election.

Arcuri, from New York’s 24th congressional district, tied with Rep. Michael McMahon (D–NY–13) for the title of “most centrist” member of Congress in National Journal’s rankings.  Arcuri won election in the Democratic wave of 2006 but was swept out by local businessman Richard Hanna in a rematch of the 2008 race in which Hanna surprised many by coming within two points of defeating Arcuri.  Arcuri was only the second Democrat to represent the area in over 100 years and touted his moderate voting record.  He voted for the stimulus package and against cap-and-trade.  Like Maffei, Arcuri voted for final passage President Obama’s health care bill, after initially voting against it in the House.  That flip-flop likely played a large role in his defeat this year.

In the neighboring 29th district, Republican Thomas Reed easily defeated Democrat Matthew Zeller by 12-points to win the seat vacated by Democrat Eric Massa.  Massa resigned Congress in March after a sexual harassment scandal involving a male member of his staff.  The district went unrepresented in Congress since Massa’s resignation, because New York Governor David Paterson refused to set an earlier date for a special election to fill the seat.  As a result, last week’s election in the district was actually two separate contests:  one to fill the remainder of Massa’s term, and the other to fill the seat in the 112th Congress.  Reed, the former mayor of Corning, New York, takes his seat immediately after winning both races.

Republican Christopher Gibson defeated Rep. Scott Murphy (D) in the 20th district by a comfortable 11-point margin.  Gibson is a highly decorated 24-year Army veteran with six overseas deployments on his record, including four in Iraq.  He has been awarded the Purple Heart, two Legion of Merit medals, and four bronze stars.  Murphy was a first-term Democrat who prevailed by a razor-thin margin in the special election to fill Kirsten Gillibrand’s seat after Paterson appointed her to the Senate.

Tea Party favorite Nan Hayworth ousted incumbent John Hall (D) in the neighboring 19th district.  Like Arcuri, Hall was swept in with the Democratic tide in 2006 in a district that was traditionally Republican.  Hall described himself as a progressive Democrat, and voted for the health care bill, cap-and-trade, and the stimulus package.  Hayworth ran hard against the health care bill, citing her expertise as a physician.  She also embraced the Tea Party message of a return to limited government.  That message helped her with independents in the district, whose votes she won over Hall by nearly 20-points. 

Downstate in the 13th congressional district, which encompasses all of Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn, Republican Michael Grimm defeated one-term incumbent Michael McMahon to become the only elected Republican representative in New York City.  McMahon won the seat in 2008 after former Rep. Vito Fossella resigned.  McMahon tried to build an image as a moderate in the traditionally Republican district, as evidenced by the National Journal ranking.  But his votes for the stimulus, cap-and-trade, and financial reform packages ultimately did him in.

More impressive than the sheer number of House pickups in New York, however, is the fact that they were achieved despite Republicans’ losing heavily in three upticket races.  Democrats won by an average of 29 points in the governor’s race and two Senate contests.  Democrats also won statewide races for attorney general and comptroller.  Still, Republican House candidates prevailed.  The challenge for the state party now is to field equally strong House candidates and to put up a significant challenge to Sen. Gillibrand in 2012.  If it can achieve those goals, the GOP may succeed in changing New York—at least upstate—from deep blue to a warmer shade of purple.