Dealt a bad hand by redistricting, Republican state senator Sue Serino faced a very narrow path to victory in this Tuesday’s 2022 general election. Everything had to break right for Serino — a strong statewide GOP tide that could pull most of the independent voters to her side in a district aligned strongly toward many of the views and values expressed by her energetic Democratic opponent, fellow incumbent state senator Michelle Hinchey.
Serino didn’t make it.
With 295 of 297 election district in the four-county state senate area reporting on the night of the election, Hinchey had 71,286 votes to Serino’s 64,382. Hinchey’s unofficial vote total in Ulster County was 40,042 to Serino’s 29,278.
As of this month, the new 41st state senatorial district, consisting of Columbia and Greene counties, Dutchess County north of Poughkeepsie, and eastern and northern Ulster County, had 246,408 registered voters in all. That total included 95,614 registered Democrats, 64,089 registered Republicans, 68,128 voters not enrolled in any party, and a smattering of people enrolled in minor parties.
In order to even the odds between the two major parties, the unenrolled vote would have had to have fallen roughly on a proportion of twelve votes for Serino for every five for Hinchey. Instead, it split between the two candidates about evenly.
The anti-Democratic undertow among the unenrolled-in-a-party was not very strong in Ulster County. The voters of 2022 chose, despite their anti-Albany mood, not to pin the blame on most of their local state legislators in the region.
The two incumbents, Serino and Hinchey, found themselves fighting to extend the turf with which they were already familiar to lesser known parts of the new district, with Hinchey crossing over to canvass in Dutchess County and Serino making forays into Ulster and Greene.
Let’s provide a four-county perspective.
We’d expect Hinchey to have been strongest in the Ulster part of the district, and she was. It’s Hinchey territory. On election night, she secured an almost 11,000 vote lead over her opponent in the Ulster portion of the senatorial district, which has 42,808 Democratic enrollees and 21,294 Republican enrollees. Thanks largely to the Covid migration from New York City of the last three years, the three-to-two margin between the major parties only four years ago has now expanded to two to one for the Democrats in the Ulster portion of the new senatorial district. Two to one means a big election obstacle for any opponent.
Hinchey has in the past shown strength among the conservatives in her home town of Saugerties and northern Ulster County in general, plus support among the more conservative apple farmers in the southeast portion of Ulster County. However many centrist voters Serino was able to convert in a Republican year in Ulster County were canceled out by the powerful Hinchey brand. Hinchey’s 40,042 votes in Ulster County to Serino’s 29,278 gave the cushion she needed.
Ulster County has 40.6 percent of the registered voters in the new senatorial district.
What effect did the gubernatorial candidates have on those lower down the ballot?
For better or worse, Kathy Hochul and Lee Zeldin are the crosses that their supporters bore. Hochul’s campaign may not have separated her very effectively from the Democratic state administrations of the last two decades, but her efforts were sufficient for her apparent victory. Zeldin’s major issue, crime in the subways and streets, didn’t seem to strike much of a familiar chord in the upper Hudson Valley.
Greene and Columbia counties
It used to be that Greene County and Columbia County would cancel each other out in electoral contests. Republicans would have the lion’s share of local offices in both counties, and independent-minded voters in the smaller towns would keep Democratic profligacy at the county level in check. One can imagine a moderate Republican of the ilk of Serino doing well in these two counties.
With the influx of city people, however, that delicate political balance is threatened. The GOP enrollment edge over the Democrats in Greene has shrunk to 3400, and the Democrats now have a significant 6800 enrollment margin over the Republicans in Columbia County. A Democrat was even elected sheriff last year.
Serino wasn’t likely to gain much ground over Hinchey in Greene-Columbia. She did reasonably well, beating Hinchey by about 4200 votes in Greene County and losing to her in Columbia County by 4400 votes in the unofficial results. The two counties did cancel each other out.
Greene County has 14.2 percent of the registered voters in the new senatorial district. Columbia County has 20.1 percent of the registered voters in the new district.
That left the northern Dutchess County part of the senatorial district. With the 16,470 Republicans within shouting distance of the 18,185 Democrats, northern Dutchess might seem a fertile territory for gains by the well-known Serino.
For Serino, that turf couldn’t be big enough. And it wasn’t.
In the unofficial count as of late Tuesday evening, Serino had 16,364 votes in Dutchess County to Hinchey’s 15,099
Dutchess County has only 25.1 percent of the registered voters in the new senatorial district.
Though half of the dozen Dutchess towns in the new senatorial district have more registered Republicans than registered Democrats, a cluster of three northeastern ones (about a third of the Dutchess district electorate), Red Hook, Rhinebeck and Milan, march to a strongly Democratic drummer. No matter how well thought of Serino was there, it wasn’t likely that she could gain the voter edge over Hinchey she needed. Not enough converts available.
Michelle Hinchey, who is going to represent the 41st state senatorial district for the next two years, has found herself a new district in which she’s going to be hard to beat.