It’s apparently a New York state of mind, but even Billy Joel wouldn’t want to take credit for it at this point. In many ways, the Empire State is currently a perfect microcosm of the nation’s political mood. Democrats in 2008, having already secured the governor’s mansion, not only improved their majority position in the state assembly but finished the hat trick by seizing control of the senate for the first time in the living memory of many voters.
And in another mirror of the national pulse, after less than a year of this hopeful change, the natives have shot straight past restless and into full-blown panic.
Siena Research Institute this week concluded one of their deepest polls into the attitudes and preferences of New Yorkers this year. The crosstabs brought forth some results which should send many a public servant looking for work in the private sector.
Fifty-seven percent told Siena that the state was “on the wrong track,” 90 percent described the state’s fiscal condition as either “fair” or “poor,” and either solid majorities or strong pluralities felt that their political leaders had less integrity and were less fair than those of decades past. In one of the least reported but possibly most alarming statistics, 41 percent indicated that they would like to move out of the state, either in the near future or for their retirement.
In a climate such as this, one might suppose that a slate of GOP candidates would be standing ready for 2010, each with a single television buy which simply says: “So … how’s that Democratic majority working out for ya?” But with New York being New York, things are never quite that simple.
With Governor David Paterson’s approval ratings in the low 30s and only 15 percent saying they would choose him in 2010, the voters still don’t seem to feel they put the wrong party in power — they simply have the wrong Democrat. Seventy percent hold a favorable opinion of Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, son of former Governor Mario. He swamps the two most frequently mentioned potential Republican contenders — Rick Lazio and Chris Collins — by fifty points each. (Lazio, my personal favorite, continues to hold the title of “best GOP candidate you’ve never heard of,” with 21 percent approving of him, 22 percent disapproving, and 57 percent saying they either didn’t know who he was or didn’t know enough to form an opinion.)
Not all of the news was grim for Republicans, though. When you bring “America’s mayor” Rudy Giuliani into the picture, the numbers soften up a bit. He still currently loses to Cuomo in a hypothetical, head-to-head match-up, but the gap narrows to 13 percent. Will Rudy run? Newsday is reporting that he’s “mulling the idea over” and he’s made some very patriotic statements about being willing to serve if the needs of New York demand it, but the article also reminds us that Rudy loves grabbing headlines to boost his own private business endeavors. Plus, every publisher in the Big Apple keeps a boilerplate article on hand at all times about Giuliani running for this or that office. He loves to tease us, but there’s simply no telling what he will do.
Another factor to consider was brought up at CQ Politics, who point out that Rudy could inadvertently aid the Democrats if he does toss his hat in the gubernatorial ring. Right now, Andrew Cuomo is keeping his cards close to the vest, not wanting to start a civil war in his own party while Paterson is still insisting he wants to run for a full term of his own. And he’ll want to tread carefully, since the governor has already shown that he will use the race card at the drop of a hat.
If Cuomo stays on the sidelines, a concerted effort by the GOP could push one of their candidates into a stronger position against the embattled governor. But if Rudy is in the hunt and it’s clear that Paterson will get trounced — the poll shows Giuliani beating him 56 to 33 — that would give the AG the cover he needs to make a run at the nomination during the primary.
Things also look a little better on the Senate front for the Republicans. Kirsten Gillibrand is turning out to have relatively soft support, and the Siena numbers show former Governor George Pataki leading her 42 to 39, while she beats Congressman Pete King by a margin of 46 to 24. (Should it come to a primary battle, Pataki thrashes King by a two-to-one margin, currently.)
Chuck Schumer, as always, maintains high favorability ratings and his seat seems safe. Given the way his star has been rising recently in the Democratic Party on the national level, he has no compelling reason to seek greener pastures and I doubt the Republicans will put up more than token opposition to him next year.
So how to explain this rough ground for Republicans in a state so obviously fed up with their current leadership? A good clue may be found in their national views. President Obama’s approval ratings have now gone upside down for the first time across the land according to the latest polls by both Gallup and Rasmussen. But in New York, he still maintains a staggering 70 percent level of support. (That figure, believe it or not, includes 35 percent of the Republicans and 72 percent of the independents.) With followers such as that in the face of economic calamity, it’s not hard to believe that the GOP will face a tough slog here next fall.
So, again, New York is New York. The voters may lose patience with Democrats from time to time, but a fair number of them seem willing to simply usher in a new group of Democrats rather than risking a roll of the dice on the Republicans. This doesn’t mean that the GOP should fold their hand, though. Even picking off one Senate seat in the Northeast would be a major coup after the beatings they sustained in their last two at-bats. But they will need to be aware of that New York state of mind. And it’s not always a very stable one.