Republicans fared well in New York on Election Day. Can they hang on?
ALBANY – Republican candidates fared relatively well on Election Day in true blue New York, picking up significant leads in key congressional and state legislative races despite Democrat Joe Biden cruising to an easy win in the state's presidential contest.
Now Republicans will see if they can hold on.
Statewide, local elections officials reported receiving at least 1.4 million absentee ballots through Tuesday with thousands more expected to trickle in over the coming days, provided they were postmarked by Election Day.
It all means the GOP will have to withstand a barrage of absentee ballots in order to win any close election this year in New York, with many key counties reporting a disproportionate amount of ballots from Democrats as opposed to Republicans, following a nationwide trend.
Still, Republicans were bolstered by the early results after two years ago losing the state Senate majority and getting ousted in key congressional races.
Now it appears they will make up some lost ground, aided by strong turnout in a presidential year with President Donald Trump, a native New Yorker on the ticket, as the president sought a second term.
"We had a very good night," state Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy said Wednesday in Albany.
"We don't know the final end results, but we have taken a tremendous step forward toward that mission to rebuild the party and restore two-party government in the state of New York."
COVID-19 leads to absentee surge
The higher-than-normal absentee returns are a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic: New York allowed any voter to cast a mail-in ballot this year if they were concerned about potentially catching the virus at a polling place.
Republican leaders, however, say they're confident their candidates will hold on in tight races despite the absentee disparity, particularly in Congress and the state Senate.
In the only statewide race Tuesday, Biden easily defeated Republican President Donald Trump, picking up about 58% of the in-person vote to Trump's 40%
In congressional races, Republican candidates held leads in nine of the state's 27 districts after in-person ballots were counted — three more than the party captured in 2018.
That includes several races where incumbents appear to have survived tough challenges, including Reps. Elise Stefanik of the North Country, Chris Jacobs of western New York and John Katko of central New York.
Among other races, former Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney has a 28,000-vote lead over incumbent Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi, who defeated Tenney in 2018 in a district stretching from the Mohawk Valley to the Southern Tier.
On Staten Island, Republican Nicole Malliotakis declared victory over incumbent Democratic Rep. Max Rose after building a 37,000-vote lead on Election Day.
But Rose had yet to concede despite the almost-impossible gap. The breakdown of absentee ballots shows why: Of the 41,663 absentee ballots returned in the district so far, 32,003 came from Democrats. Just 8,125 came from Republicans, according to the NYC Board of Elections.
"As a soldier who fought for our democracy, I believe every vote must be counted," Rose said Tuesday night.
State Senate races come down to absentees
It's a similar story in the state Senate.
Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, said he's confident his party's candidates will ultimately win at least 27 of the state's 63 Senate seats, four more than the 23 seats they currently hold.
He also expressed confidence in two other Republicans facing deficits of fewer than 1,000 votes: Mike Barry, who is facing Democrat Jeremy Cooney for a Rochester-area seat; and Sam Rodgers, who is facing incumbent Sen. Rachael May in the Syracuse area.
But in eight districts where Democrats are currently losing, a high percentage of absentee ballots were returned by enrolled Democrats.
That includes the 46th Senate district, a wide-ranging seat that runs from the Albany area and Mohawk Valley into the Catskills and Hudson Valley.
In that district, Republican Rich Amedure leads Democrat Michelle Hinchey by about 8,000 votes. But of the roughly 22,500 absentee ballots returned so far, 11,800 came from Democrats and 4,200 came from Republicans. Another 5,000 came from independents.
"We are strongly encouraged by our competitive standing tonight, the historic number of absentee ballots and the connection that we made with voters of all political stripes," Hinchey said in a statement Wednesday.
"We look forward to the next steps.”
Senate Democrats said they're confident several of the close races will turn in their favor after paper-ballot counting.
"With the record high number of outstanding absentee ballots that are overwhelmingly Democratic, we will add even more victories to our majority as the vote counts continue," Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, said in a statement.
Lengthy ballot counts ahead
Ortt said his party has been preparing for the upcoming absentee ballot counts, which will require a team of lawyers dispersed throughout the state to oversee the counting process and object to any ballots with potential errors.
New York does not allow local boards of elections to count absentee ballots before Election Day, in part because the state has to check to ensure an absentee voter didn't also cast an in-person ballot. In that situation, the in-person ballot would count and the absentee would not.
That check is expected to be completed Thursday, after which counties can theoretically begin counting. But most will wait until Tuesday or later because absentee votes will continue to trickle in through then.
Ortt said his party's Election Day performance was a "repudiation of one-party rule" in New York, where Democrats have controlled both houses of the Legislature since the start of 2019.
"We are prepared to count the votes," he said Wednesday.
"We believe firmly that when all these votes are counted, we are going to be coming back with significantly more members than we had last year and more than a lot of folks across the state thought we would have."
Jon Campbell is a New York state government reporter for the USA TODAY Network. He can be reached at JCAMPBELL1@Gannett.com or on Twitter at @JonCampbellGAN.
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