New York State Republican Candidates Fight Shadow of Trump

New York State Republican Candidates Fight Shadow of Trump
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Republican candidates hoping to roll back gains made by New York Democrats in 2018 are trying to differentiate themselves from President Trump, who trails in polls in many districts.

The question of whether voters will cross party lines in down-ballot races for the state Senate and Assembly is key for several contests in the Hudson Valley and on Long Island. Experts say it will be difficult for the GOP in most areas, but Republicans hope campaigns based on state issues—including a series of recent laws changing the criminal-justice system—will help them break through.

One is Rob Astorino, a former Westchester County executive who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2014 and lost his bid for a third term in 2017. Mr. Astorino said his 2017 loss was largely due to anti-Trump sentiment, but in his current bid for a state Senate seat, he is arguing to bring balance to a state government that is now completely controlled by Democrats.

“I don’t think it really matters how people vote for president. They’re going to take a look locally at the issues and vote for somebody who has been there for them and worked across party lines,” Mr. Astorino said, adding that several supporters of former Vice President Joe Biden have volunteered to help his campaign. Mr. Astorino said he would vote for Mr. Trump.

Mr. Astorino faulted incumbent Democratic Sen. Pete Harckham for supporting a law that eliminated cash bail for most nonviolent misdemeanor and felony charges. Mr. Astorino and law-enforcement officials said the law has prompted the release of dangerous people and contributed to rising crime rates.

Mr. Harckham said in an interview that Mr. Astorino was engaged in fearmongering, and that the law made the criminal-justice system fairer. The incumbent predicted Mr. Biden would carry the district, which includes northern Westchester County, as well as parts of Putnam and Dutchess counties. It contains about 20,000 more Democratic than Republican voters, but more than 50,000 nonpartisan voters.

Democrats have attacked Mr. Astorino’s associations with Mr. Trump. “Donald Trump is not going to win this district, and why would voters send somebody to Albany who spent the last 3½ years on television defending Donald Trump’s divisive policies?” Mr. Harckham asked, referring to Mr. Astorino’s work as a television commentator since he left office.

Democratic governor

Incumbent State Sen. Pete Harckham, a Democrat, said ‘Donald Trump is not going to win this district.’


Tom Staudter

If anyone is in a position to shake off this kind of attack, it is someone who is familiar to voters like Mr. Astorino, according to Larry Levy, director of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University. Mr. Levy said Republicans will fare better in exurban areas like Suffolk County that are further from city centers.

Jeanne Zaino, a professor of political science at Iona College in Westchester County, said the resonance of a local issue would be key for candidates like Mr. Astorino. She was uncertain if the controversial bail law would be enough to break through because the coronavirus pandemic and questions over the government’s response have superseded most campaign issues.

Bruce Gyory, a political consultant at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips LLP, said Republicans like Mr. Astorino would have found a more favorable climate at a different time.

“Are voters coming with a predisposition to vote against all Republicans, or is it just Trump?” Mr. Gyory asked. “That’s the $64,000 question, and that’s the gamble they took running this year.”

In their final debate, President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden agreed on little but had serious conversations about the coronavirus pandemic and the economy. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib unpacks the themes that will resonate in the home stretch of the election. Photos: Julio Cortez/Associated Press; Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

BUYING THE BOOK: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s memoir about the coronavirus crisis sold three times as many copies in its first week on the shelves than his first book has since it was published in 2014.

According to NPD BookScan, people bought 11,800 copies of “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons From the COVID-19 Pandemic” in the week that ended Oct. 17. The Democratic governor’s 2014 autobiography had sold fewer than 4,000 copies as of this summer.

“American Crisis” last week landed on a New York Times bestseller list, and Mr. Cuomo has been on a media tour to promote the 308-page tome, including a Thursday appearance on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

THE QUESTION: Actor and producer Mel Brooks said last week he was supporting Joe Biden for president, his first endorsement of a presidential candidate. But it isn’t Mr. Brooks’s first political foray: Which New York state senator has the 94-year-old comedian previously touted?

—Know the answer? Write me an email!

THE LAST ANSWER:Hugh L. Carey was the last New York governor to cast his ballot in Albany. He legally changed his residence to the Executive Mansion on Eagle Street before the 1980 elections and voted at an Albany fire station. Mario M. Cuomo lived in the mansion, but always maintained a voting address in his native Queens.

Write to Jimmy Vielkind at

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