Maloney’s defeat wasn’t an anomaly: Two other Democratic House seats on Long Island flipped. Gov. Kathy Hochul eked out a single-digit win after raising some $50 million and securing GOTV weekend appearances from former President Bill Clinton and President Joe Biden. And Democrats’ supermajority in the state Senate, achieved two years ago, remains in limbo.
By Wednesday morning, blame swirled as Democrats in New York reckoned with outcomes that fell short of their worst fears but loosened their grip on political power at every level. Republicans, who struggled against expectations across the country, outperformed in one of the bluest states in the nation.
Polling consistently showing an increase in crime — and a general sense of disorder — topped voters’ minds in New York, yet many centrist Democrats struggled to articulate a plan on the issue. While Republicans hammered away, painting the state as a chaotic hellscape, Democrats fought over whether to acknowledge it at all.
Left-of-center politicians insisted Republicans, moderate Democratic Mayor Eric Adams and media outlets were fear-mongering instead of focusing on economic insecurity. Centrist Democrats countered that their progressive critics were out of touch with most voters.
“We haven’t been messaging adequately on crime,” returning Rep. Jerry Nadler said in an interview Tuesday night, from Hochul’s victory party in Manhattan. “The Republican mantra is that crime is going up in Democratic cities. The fact is, crime is going up all over the country — suburbs, cities, rural areas.”
Underscoring the feud within the party — a contrast to the uniformity among Republicans in New York — left-leaning Democrats vehemently disagreed with Nadler.
“The crime panic was a cynical ploy by the right wing, just like the migrant caravans they invent every election cycle,” progressive strategist Gabe Tobias said in an interview. “I think Democrats who bought into the ploy suffered for it. The ones who won focused on economic justice and abortion rights.”
He pointed to Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s victory over Mehmet Oz for the U.S. Senate as proof of a success story from a candidate who paid more attention to the economy than stoking fears about crime. But in New York — where a debate has fomented over whether crime is real or perceived — public safety has animated voters from both parties. It was the issue that propelled Adams, a former police captain with deep support among Black voters, to victory in the mayor’s race last year.
By Wednesday afternoon, Hochul was only leading GOP opponent Lee Zeldin by 5.6 points, the closest margin of victory of any New York governor’s race since 1994. Republican Nicole Malliotakis clobbered her Democratic opponent Max Rose. And the state’s congressional delegation surrendered three Democratic seats to Republicans, who ran with a near-singular focus on combating crime.
“Kathy Hochul spent $50 million to win by 5 points,” said Jonathan Greenspun, a former Republican political strategist who worked for ex-Mayor Mike Bloomberg, referring to the incumbent’s fundraising haul. “While a win is always a win, you can’t simply rest on your laurels here and say, ‘let’s just continue to do business as usual,’ because it’s clear the vast majority of the electorate are not going to stand for that.”
The seeds of Tuesday’s poor showing were planted in February, when state Democrats released a redistricting plan that was expected to flip at least three congressional seats from red to blue. Now, the opposite is happening.
The lines so egregiously favored Democrats that they were thrown out by a judge and replaced with districts drawn by a special master with little consideration of incumbency. Nadler, for example, had to vanquish another party stalwart in a primary before claiming his Manhattan seat Tuesday. And Maloney opted to run in a district where former Rep. Mondaire Jones lived, forcing the freshman legislator to mount a quixotic bid in New York City where he neither lived nor had a base.
“I just keep thinking of the old adage: Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered,” said Democratic strategist Peter Kauffmann, who has worked for former Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Hillary Clinton and called the redistricting process in New York a national embarrassment. “There was a way to draw those lines to make more Democratic seats and withstand a legal challenge. By overshooting, we’re now going to lose two or three more seats than we need to.”
Democrats’ problems with crime messaging were apparent on Long Island, where Republicans flipped two congressional seats. Republican George Santos won the 3rd Congressional District, which voted for Biden by a double-digit margin in 2020. Jill Biden had campaigned for Democratic candidate Robert Zimmerman just days prior. And Republican Anthony D’Esposito beat Democrat Laura Gillen in the competitive 4th District that spans Nassau County’s south shore.
“We knew Nassau and Suffolk counties were going to be a big problem. And they turned out to be a big problem,” said Michael Mulgrew, head of the influential New York City teacher’s union. “I think what [voters] are saying is: until New York City gets back on its feet, you’re gonna see a lot of anger, a lot of frustration, especially in the suburbs, as well as New York City and you know? It’s valid.”
And in southern Brooklyn, an area that has increasingly become a partisan battleground, a slate of incumbent state legislators were on track to be ousted by GOP newcomers. The result threatens state Democrats’ supermajority in Albany.
“Public safety was an issue here, but there was no counter-narrative,” said state Sen. Andrew Gounardes, a Democrat who handily won his district while colleagues around him fell to Republicans. “There was no Democratic messaging on public safety to either blunt the attacks or pivot or shift to anything else that voters cared about.”
New York Republicans said the single-digit gap dividing Zeldin and Hochul should serve as a wake-up call.
Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess County executive who was declared winner of an upstate New York House seat, pointed to the GOP’s emphasis on crime, which topped many polls as a leading concern among voters. “New Yorkers want a government that respects them and a government that protects them,” he said in an interview Wednesday.
And in his Wednesday concession, Zeldin said the race was a “once-in-a-generation campaign, with a very close margin in the bluest of blue states.”
“Those controlling Albany should take note,” he added.
Anna Gronewold and Danielle Muoio Dunn contributed to this report.