Hugh Reynolds: The mood of the electorate

The columnist Reynolds.

The columnist Reynolds.

“People have been traumatized [by the Great Recession]. They’re still struggling, worried, and anxious. Even though they’re working, they don’t believe their jobs are stable, they fear layoffs, and there’s a sense of impermanence.” So writes Carl Horn, author of Working Scared or Not at All, a professor of public policy at Rutgers University, as quoted in the November issue of Consumer Reports.

This perspective approximates the mood of the electorate as we approach the Nov. 4 elections.

We’ve been bombarded with mailers, TV and radio ads and robo phone calls for the past six weeks or so. Everything’s been more or less said about the candidates and the issues.

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Judging the mood of the electorate is more art than science, but if Professor Horn has it right it could be a bad year for Democrats, particularly for those on the bubble.

Despite a miserable showing upstate in the September Democratic primary, Gov. Andrew Cuomo probably has enough of a lead and tens of millions of dollars in reserve to withstand an 11th-hour charge from underfunded and too-far-right wing Republican challenger Rob Astorino. If the September primary demonstrated anything, it was that a lot of people in his own party just don’t like Andrew Cuomo. Few of those diehard Democrats will vote for Astorino. If they stay home, at least two and possibly three local races could be impacted.

Congress

This year’s showcase pits two-term incumbent Republican Chris Gibson, a retired Army officer out of Kinderhook, against millionaire newcomer Democrat Sean Eldridge of Shokan.

It was before his time, but in considering a run for Congress Eldridge, 28, may have channeled Billy Joel’s “all you need is looks and a whole lot of money” — assets this candidate has in spades. What he may not have as this fiercely contested race reaches the top of the homestretch is traction.

A Siena College poll taken in mid-September showed Eldridge trailing by 24 points. Gibson’s internal poll released last week placed the margin at 26 points, with Gibson leading on “women’s issues” by 20 points. A house poll publicized by Eldridge’s camp this Tuesday suggested their guy has cut that huge margin in half to about 10 points, give or take the margin of error.

Eldridge may be right on lots of issues, including those that concern women, but even if he’s finally got some momentum he still has a lot more ground to make up.

The sense, even among die-hard Democrats, has been that this attractive young man is just not ready for prime time, a subject he addressed during an interview with our editors. A credible showing against a formidable foe could set him up for future endeavors here or elsewhere.

While almost diametrically opposed on most issues, Gibson and Eldridge pursued similar campaign strategies in Ulster County. Neither was well-known in Ulster. When Gibson ran in the newly redrawn 19th District in 2012, he paid the price, losing the county to Julian Schreibman by some 13,000 votes. Eldridge at that time didn’t even live in the district.

While minding his northern district base, the congressman has spent a good deal of time in Ulster, presumably winning friends and influencing people. Gibson at least had a running start. Eldridge started as a complete unknown.

Both are likable. Gibson is the kind of guy you might meet at a Legion dance on a Saturday night, Eldridge the good-looking dude at a swank cocktail party. Gibson comes at issues with more passion. Eldridge is a bit cool to the touch.

Our editorial boards interviewed candidates in separate sessions. I prefer where they get in each other’s faces. Both made sense, though respective versions on issues differed. Eldridge accused Gibson of voting to cut $9 billion in federal hunger aid. Gibson’s response was the reduction was over a 10-year period on a $70 billion budget. The people I see standing in lines at local soup kitchens probably didn’t appreciate the distinction.

Eldridge’s response to questions of maturity was thoughtful. Four years ago Eldridge would have been Constitutionally barred by age from running. He supports a mix of generations in Congress, he said, but believes younger members will bring more urgency to their tasks. People, he said, want Congress to act, not argue.

Gibson, at 50, is hardly a dinosaur. He’s spent half his life commanding young soldiers, a fact he likes to reiterate. “I’ve been in tougher situations,” he says, than his congressional run. Despite an avalanche of negative ads, nobody is shooting real bullets at him.

Some statements merited follow-up, like Gibson holding to his pledge of four terms and out.

Eldridge was asked to speak to his distinction between Gibson’s taking corporate contributions from PACs (Political Action Committees) and Eldridge’s accepting donations from corporate executives. The difference, he said with a straight face, is that Gibson serves his donors, while his contributors “have never asked me to do anything.”  We moved on.

Even with Gibson’s camp brimming with confidence, I don’t smell a landslide, typically 10 points or more. But an upset is unlikely. Much as people detest negative advertising, it brings frontrunners to heel. Eldridge’s millions will show up on Election Day, even if he doesn’t.

State Senate

This replay of Campaign 2012 where a pair of unknowns in Ulster fought to an 18-vote decision was earlier seen as history redux, but something funny seems to have happened to Democratic incumbent Cecilia Tkaczyk on her way to a second term. George Amedore, the Republican assemblyman she barely beat — ambushed, really — in the waning days of the campaign, is back, repackaged and maybe a little wiser after losing his first election.

Tkaczyk, who owing to a weeks-long recount arrived in the state Senate a few weeks later than her class, nonetheless had almost two years to establish herself. A road warrior, she says she drove over 70,000 miles a year in the sprawling north-to-south 46th Senate District, which stretches to the northern reaches of Albany County to the doorsteps of New Paltz.

But Tkaczyk couldn’t detour around a house divided, that bastardized Senate ruled by minority Republicans in league with a handful of Gotham breakaway Democrats. Republicans, led by devious Dean Skelos, had as their goal the restoration of their (actual) majority, which meant vulnerable freshman Democrats like Tkaczyk and Terry Gipson in Dutchess got nothing. Another poll taken earlier this month had both down by 10 points to their challengers.

There are 2 comments

  1. CP

    Excellent overview, Hugh; thank you for your thoroughness.

    I would repeat one line:

    “If [frustrated voters] stay home, at least two and possibly three local races could be impacted.”

    I have always believed that, since I started voting, there are NO off-year elections. Everyone is running for an office that is important, both for what they can do in it now and to show what they can do in the future if they wish to move “up the ticket.” Thus, it is incumbent on every citizen to vote in every election; someone running for local or state office on November 4th will be running for President some time in the following few years.

    Thanks again – see you at the polling place.

  2. Walt

    I think Gibson is going to blow out Eldridge by a wide margin. I know a lot of Democrats here in Ulster County that just don’t like Eldridge for several reasons, and have told me they’re voting for Gibson. Plus, Eldridge is going to get crushed in the other 10 less liberal counties in this district besides Ulster.

    Going to be an ugly election night at the Eldridge household after spending all those millions of dollars.

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