The Eagle’s View: Parsing the election results

During his post-election press conference discussing the midterms, a defiant president Donald Trump downplayed the GOP losses in the House of Representatives. The Democrats had gained a clear majority. The president tried putting a positive spin on the losses in the lower chamber of Congress by saying Republicans “significantly [beat] expectations in the House for the [midterms].” 

He was ignoring the fact that the Democratic gains were the largest since Nixon’s 1974 first post-Watergate election. Two years later, Jimmy Carter’s 1976 I’ll-never-lie-to-you presidential campaign continued to benefit Democrats in the post-Nixon era.

In a congressional race with national implications, John Faso was on the losing end on election night. He didn’t escape the president’s ire. Trump mentioned Faso by name at his November 7 press conference, when the president complained about House Republicans who “decided for their own reason not to embrace [him], whether it’s me or what we stand for.”

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Democrat Antonio Delgado built so large a lead in Ulster County that Faso couldn’t make up the difference in the counties he did win. Faso’s loss in this election compares with that of Maurice Hinchey’s first congressional re-election bid, when he was challenged for a second time by Republican Bob Moppert. In the 1994 midterm election, Republicans scored a nationwide net gain of 54 seats in the House of Representatives. Hinchey, who had unexpectedly won the Assembly election against incumbent H. Clark Bell in 1974, barely survived the 1994 race. He lost Ulster County and his hometown of Saugerties in that election. 

Faso lost his home county of Columbia this time. 

Knowing much of his district continued trending Democratic in enrollment, Faso tried to portray himself as a middle-of-the-road Republican. He led the effort this year to rename the Saugerties post office in the former hometown congressman’s name. That seemingly innocuous move may have infuriated some of his own party’s faithful. In our current political climate, playing the middle doesn’t win many elections. That’s especially true for Republicans.

If there’s a bright spot for Republicans in 2020, it may be this: While 72,743 Ulster County voters in Ulster County came out this year, according to election-night figures, 86,268 voted in the presidential election year of 2016. (This year’s figures don’t yet include absentee ballots). If those missing 13,525 voters were largely Trump supporters, a premise yet to be proven, the races down the ballot in 2020 may be tighter, including the congressional race won this year by Harvard Law School graduate and Rhodes scholar Delgado.

The sheriff’s job isn’t always seen as a political position. It’s one where competence and management skills are important. When voters oust an incumbent sheriff, it’s usually when there’s the appearance of mismanagement. 

Not this year. Paul VanBlarcum may have lost his position against Juan Figueroa in Ulster County because of his own political doings.

As a Democrat, the sheriff posed with Trump for a picture at the White House. That wasn’t the smartest move. Activist Democrats back in Ulster County are furious with the president.  

The sheriff also made a political mistake when he called for an NFL boycott when some NFL players decided to protest against what they believed was police violence against African-Americans.

The list goes on.

Juan Figueroa beat VanBlarcum by six percent. Whether VanBlarcum’s Saugerties roots (he graduated from Saugerties High School) helped his total number isn’t known since those numbers weren’t available at press time.

The state Assembly and Senate seats remained a bright spot for Republicans in Saugerties, with Republican Assembly candidate Chris Tague defeating Democrat Aidan O’Connor and Republican state senator George Amedore defeating Democrat Pat Strong.  I’ll be looking for the local vote totals once they’re available.

The five-member Saugerties town board voted early in the year to appoint Republican William Myers to fill the vacant position of town justice after interviewing numerous candidates that submitted applications. On Election Day, Saugerties voters had a different candidate in mind. They looked to the Democratic line. Christopher Kraft’s win wasn’t necessarily a surprise during a wave election. What surprised was his large margin of victory; more than three to two. Some attributed the margin of victory to the “Kraft” name, which goes back in Saugerties.

What makes local elections sometimes unpredictable is that party-enrolled voters are more likely to cross party lines in local elections than they might when voting for state or national candidates. When voting for a friend, neighbor, relative, or someone you know from down the street, their party affiliation matters less. 

Democrats for decades never elected a town justice on their line. Come January, they’ll have two. Besides Christopher Kraft, Claudia Andreassen won reelection on the Democratic line in 2016. In 2006, Democrat Wendy Ricks may have been the first Democrat to win the justice position in Saugerties, as well as the first woman justice.

Christopher Kraft may hold a distinction, too. He may be the first male candidate for town justice elected in Saugerties on the Democratic line.

Michael MacIsaac was appointed to the town board earlier in the year when then-councilman Fred Costello vacated his position upon becoming supervisor. Voters got their chance to have their say this month. Only MacIsaac’s name appeared on the ballot for town council. Republicans failed to field a candidate.  

This may have been the first time in a while in Saugerties a major political field left a town council seat blank. Democrats, even when they were outnumbered two-to-one by Republicans decades ago, always fielded candidates for town-board positions. They even won some of those races.

After Democrats swept to victory in the town-board elections last year, including the stunning victory by second-place finisher John Schoonmaker over Republican candidates Vincent Altieri and Don Tucker, it’s not entirely surprising the Republicans decided to take a breather in this year’s special election.

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