The Republican Party has controlled the State Senate for a generation. At times, indeed, at this very moment, Republican State Senators like the majority leader, Joseph Bruno, have acted as an important check on Democrats in the Assembly and in the governor’s office.
But Mr. Bruno and his colleagues have a problem. Democrats have whittled away the G.O.P.’s control of the Senate in recent years, leaving Mr. Bruno with just a two-seat majority heading into this fall’s legislative elections. Almost half of the party’s 32 state senators are over the age of 65. As The New York Times recently noted, seven Republican senators are 75 or older, including Mr. Bruno himself.
Of course, as John McCain has demonstrated in this year’s presidential election, there’s an argument to be made that 70 is the new 60. Mr. McCain, Mr. Bruno and many of their older colleagues clearly are not prepared, physically or mentally, to plan their days around golf and the early bird special. If their step is a touch slower now, they make up for it in savvy and wisdom.
That being said, the Republican Party’s local leaders are not making life easier for Mr. Bruno. To help stave off another tough Democratic challenge this year, Republicans are relying on aging incumbents who will be vulnerable to charges that they have been in Albany too long. The party hopes that the power of incumbency and name recognition will carry the day. That’s not a bad strategy—the problem is, it seems to be the party’s only strategy.
Republican county leaders throughout the state have done a poor job planning for the 21st century. They’ve failed to stock their farm team with prospects to replace the Republican stalwarts who have held power since the Rockefeller years (that would be Nelson, not John D.). As a result, the party has suffered through a prolonged losing streak that may well culminate in the loss of the Senate this year or in 2010.
It probably is too late to change strategies for this year. Mr. Bruno’s formidable political operation may well reserve the party’s last remaining power center in the fall, but Republican county leaders have to start thinking ahead for a change, so to speak. They have to start identifying and grooming as many as eight or 10 candidates for the Senate, getting them to civic meetings and parades and barbecues so that they become almost as familiar to voters as the veterans they will replace. The party really has no choice. The actuarial tables suggest that change is coming, and even Mr. Bruno cannot do much about it.
New York needs two-party competition. But over the past 10 years, the state Republican Party has virtually ceded New York to the Democrats. All Republicans have left is the Senate.
For years, the party took the Senate for granted. It can do so no longer. The party needs to produce new, younger, electable candidates, and it has to do so now.