Buoyed by what is at the very least a stalemate in the special election to replace disgraced State Sen. Carl Kruger in a deeply Democratic district, Senate Republicans say they now smell blood in the water and are looking to grow their 32-seat majority in the chamber.
The GOP now controls all nine seats in Long Island, while every seat Upstate under the new redistricting plan is gerrymandered to either be a Republican-held district that slightly leans in their favor, or a Democratic vote sink designed to make those neighboring Republican districts even more conservative.
This leaves them only four Democratic-held seats they could feasibly have their eyes on–and conversations with GOP operatives say that they are taking a long look at each of them.
Chief among them is State Senator Suzi Oppenheimer’s seat. Ms. Oppenheimer isn’t seeking reelection and her Westchester-based district was reconstructed to tilt to the GOP, creating a prime open seat opportunity. Furthermore, she only barely won reelection in 2010 in her then-more Democratic district, and her opponent in that race, businessman Bob Cohen, is running again this year.
Mr. Cohen is widely thought to be a fairly strong candidate to take the seat for the Republican team, but he will have to beat back primary challengers and move on to face Democratic Assemblyman George Latimer who announced his campaign last week and registered a committee just today.
“I think it’s a competitive race,” a Senate Democratic source told The Politicker. “George Latimer is a terrific candidate who’s the best candidate the Democrats could have hoped for.”
Another Republican pickup opportunity that clearly stands out is the new Orthodox Jewish district created in southern Brooklyn, the landscape of which will be significantly impacted by the ongoing recount in Tuesday’s special election for Democratic State Senator Carl Kruger’s former district. Mr. Kruger’s district was dismantled in redistricting, and the Republican candidate, David Storobin, has vowed to seek reelection in the new Orthodox seat if he wins.
(For his part, the Democratic candidate, Lew Fidler, has contemplated either running in that district or against GOP State Senator Marty Golden.)
Both Republicans and Democrats told The Politicker the seat is good territory for the GOP. In his special election, Mr. Storobin performed strongly in the part of Mr. Kruger’s district that overlaps with the new district and Orthodox Jewish voters have been sharply trending Republican in recent years.
“Under Senator Skelos’ leadership we’ve made tremendous inroads within the Orthodox Jewish community,” a spokesman for the Senate Republicans, Scott Reif, said, adding that the results “sent shockwaves through the Senate Democratic conference.”
“I’ll give them that one, it’s been proven to be a very conservative area,” the Senate Democratic source said of Republican prospects in the area. “It’s hard to deny the numbers, but with the right candidate, I think we’ll be fine.”
The two other seats Republicans are looking at would both involve directly taking on Democratic incumbents in Queens, and those both seem like longer shots than the two previously mentioned seats.
One of the potential targets, State Senator Joe Addabbo, saw his district made significantly more conservative in redistricting, but both Democrats and Republicans mused at the difficulties in defeating him this year.
“Joe Addabbo is a great white whale for them, he’s like Moby Dick. They spent a million dollars against him in 2010,” the Democratic source said of potential Republican efforts against Mr. Addabbo.
“With a viable candidate it’s a winnable seat, no doubt. But at this point it’s not clear who that will be,” a Republican consultant concurred, saying Councilman Eric Ulrich would be the ideal GOP candidate, but expressing significant doubt Mr. Ulrich will ultimately pull the trigger for such a campaign.
Meanwhile, Senators Tony Avella and Toby Ann Stavisky were drawn into the same Democratic-leaning Queens district that could be theoretically competitive with the right candidate as well, especially if Ms. Stavisky and Mr. Avella have a bruising Democratic primary as a prelude to the general election. However, the Democrats like their prospects there.
“The Queens GOP wants Juan Reyes in the new 16th,” a GOP consultant said about the seat, referencing the attorney who once eyed Anthony Weiner’s Congressional District. “I don’t know if they think he’s viable against Stavisky or Avella, but they like him a lot.”
Former Senator Frank Padavan could also make a run at the Avella/Stavisky seat and Councilman Dan Halloran would be a strong candidate as well, but he’s currently looking at a Congressional bid.
Democrats countered these potential pickup opportunities by pointing to their own prospects.
“We think there’s as many as 10 Republican seats — 10 to 12 — that are vulnerable with the maps they drew,” Senator Mike Gianaris, who heads the Senate Democrats’ campaign efforts, told The Politicker. “We have a very target-rich environment.”
Whether or not that many seats will actually be in play with a redistricting map structured to favor the opposing party remains to be seen.
Left unsaid from the entire discussion, of course, are the seats belonging to the four members of the Independent Democratic Conference, including State Senators Dave Carlucci and Dave Valeksy Upstate. The head of the Senate Republicans’ own campaign, Tom Libous, has indicated these IDC members would not be seriously challenged, but local Republicans may not necessarily take their cues from Albany in that regard.