ALBANY — A year after New York Democrats seized control of the state Senate, there are fresh signs the bleeding may not be over for Republicans.
The power shift that flowed from the big Blue Wave election of 2018 left the GOP with just 23 of the Senate's 63 seats, presenting tall challenges — some say nearly impossible ones — for Republicans now in regrouping mode.
The campaign cash that once cascaded into the coffers of the New York State Senate Campaign Committe now just trickles in.
"When you have the majority, the special interests and the lobbyists need you, and therefore they fund you, and so now this is a big advantage for Democrats," said Hank Sheinkopf, a veteran New York Democratic consultant.
In a state where Democratic enrollment greatly outnumbers the number of voters registered as Republicans, the GOP managed to keep its dominance of the Senate for as long as it did through artful drawing of district lines and pressing veteran incumbents to seek re-election even when they were long past typical retirement age.
It was a formula that almost always worked. But it came up short in 2018 after progressive Democrats ousted several disloyal members who had aligned themselves with the GOP in an unusual power-sharing arrangement, while also shrewdly backing insurgents who won general election contets in a string of competitive districts.
Republicans are increasingly facing a perception in New York that they are a party of the past, said Doug Muzzio, a political science professor at Baruch College in Manhattan. "There is a feeling out there that Democrats are on a roll," Muzzio said. "If you are going to donate, you go to winners who are going to stay winners."
More challenges to veteran Republicans are planned in 2020. On Monday, Schoharie County farmer Jim Barber, a Democrat, announced he plans to seek the 51st Senate District seat of Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford. Meanwhile, Democrat Kim Smith, a Monroe County Department of Public Health staffer, is mounting a challenge to Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer, R-Amherst.
On the eve of Thanksgiving Day, the Repulicans got more bad news. Sen. George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, declared he will not seek re-election. The 50-year-old veteran of Capital Region politics told the Times Union newspaper that his move had nothing to do with the fact he would have faced a challenge from Michelle Hinchey, daughter of the late Catskills region Congressman Maurice Hinchey.
Such challenges to incumbents could force the GOP to put resources into defending incumbents rather than using the money to target Democratic senators in swing districts.
Meanwhile, in western New York, two incumbent Republicans, Sens. Rob Ortt of North Tonawanda and Chris Jacobs, R-Erie County, are both interested in a new job, as they are both seeking to line up support from GOP leaders to run for the now vacant seat of former Rep. Chris Collins.
The Republicans are braced for another battle for a soon to be open seat, with Sen. Bob Antonacci, R-Onondaga County, having been elected to a state judgeship last month.
A review of the latest campaign fundraising reports showed the Senate GOP campaign committee taking in just $42,600 in the first six months of this year, down from more than $1.2 million raked in during the same period in 2017, when Republicans still controlled the upper chamber.
Fundraising totals, according to the latest filings in July, are also down so far this year for Ortt, Seward and Sen. Betty Little, R-Elizabethtown compared to their 2017 campaign efforts.
Ortt said in an interview that his fundraising efforts have been focused in preparation of a race for the House seat. He also said Republicans, to rebuild, must make the case the Democratic Party has been out of step with farmers and residents of small towns and rural regions.
"On the Senate side, we have to do a better job at convincing people that we can be relevant and we have a pathway back to a majority," Ortt said. He contended New Yorkers who backed Democrats in 2018 may now be experiencing voter remorse if issues such as public safety, the tax climate and the strength of family farms are important to them, given the "terrible record" of Albany Democrats.
But Harvey Schantz, professor of political science at the State University at Plattsburgh campus, said the GOP's chances of retaking the Senate appear to have become increasingly slim. "The 2018 election was an election of long-term change," he said. "I don't think it's going to change very soon."
In fact, argued Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan, first elected to the Senate 17 year ago, Democrats have a strong chance to build on their majority in 2020. She said rumors are rife in the statehouse of other GOP incumbents looking for the exits.
"We feel there are opportunities for good Dems to win more seats away from Republicans in the next elections," she said. "Clearly, (President) Donald Trump is not Mister Popularity at this point in history, even in places where he did well in 2016. We also feel that post 2020, if there is fair and independent redistricting, that it will result in more seats shifting into the blue column."
Sheinkopf said the GOP has been weighted down by its failed efforts to make any substantial gains in voter enrollment, even during the 12 years former Republican Gov. George Pataki ran the state government, from 1995 through 2006.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com