By Nick DAngelo
Last week was New York’s primary for state offices. Typically, few notice primary days, where the party-faithful select their candidates for the general election, but this was even worse. The primary for state office comes after New York has already held two—one for the presidential candidates in April and one for all other federal offices in June. And while all elections are held on Tuesdays, this primary coincided with the eleventh anniversary of September 11, forcing Governor Andrew Cuomo to move the voting back two days. The result: across New York state, voter turnout hardly peaked 15 percent, and that makes a big difference.
Primaries are important because they select the party’s standard-bearer. If a weak candidate is chosen there can be severe electoral consequences. Take 2010 in New York. While it was unlikely that any Republican could successfully take on Cuomo, the far-right selection of Carl Paladino hurt down-ticket races, possibly making the difference in the election for State Comptroller, as well as several state legislature races. With turnout lower than low, only the most devoted party members came out to pick their nominees, selecting candidates that may be too far-right to function in New York.
The most hotly contested races on Thursday were the Republican primaries for members of the State Senate who had crossed the aisle to support the same-sex marriage legislation in 2011. The Conservative Party of New York, as I wrote last year, committed a form of electoral seppuku by vowing to oppose any Republican who voted for the law. It is well known that New York Republicans depend on the Conservative Party for more votes, and that the Conservatives depend on the Republican Party for solid candidates and good exposure. Forces led by Paladino forced primaries against three of the four state senators—the fourth opted for retirement.
Two of those races are worth mentioning. In our Capitol Region, State Sen. Roy McDonald, a tough talker from Saratoga, made it clear he would not be strong armed by far-right activists. In fact, he gained national acclaim by stating last year: “You get to the point where you evolve in your life where everything isn’t black and white, good and bad, and you try to do the right thing. You might not like that. You might be very cynical about that. Well, f*** it, I don’t care what you think. I’m trying to do the right thing.” Despite being right, and a good legislator, he faced off in this year’s most contentious primary against Saratoga County Clerk Kathleen Marchione, who is famous for her heated opposition to Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s proposal to grant drivers licenses to illegal immigrants. While the debate never centered on the issue of same-sex marriage, the undertone was constant. The race remains too close to call, but Marchione leads 50.5 percent-49.5 percent.
That race was expected to be close. The 41 district (my own district in Dutchess and Putnam counties) was not. Longtime State Sen. Stephen Saland faced opposition from an obscure Right-to-Life activist, Neil Di Carlo. Di Carlo is well known in local Republican circles—and not for positive reasons. After all, this is a man who referred to me as “the abortionist” for my support of U.S. Congresswoman Nan Hayworth, who is pro-choice. Needless to say, he was not expected to win. Another race too close to call, Saland currently leads by only 42 votes out of nearly 10 thousand. While it is doubtful Di Carlo will pull off an upset, the results are still startling—and should scare any Republican.
These races matter because in a State Senate where Republicans hold a two-seat majority, these will make the difference. While Marchione may be able to hold the seat in November, it is almost certain Di Carlo will lose it. All else being equal, it would create another divided chamber, and a power struggle similar to 2009.
There is a difference between conservatism and an extremist hybrid created by a new breed labeling themselves as traditionalists. That extremist breed will never win in our state, they can only damage our party. What’s more, this wing of the party is more concerned with making a politically charged point based on hateful rhetoric than accomplishing anything in Albany. The primary results teach us that voting matters, especially during intimate state primaries. We can preserve our ideology, uphold our traditional party values and provide an opportunity for true electoral success, but only if our nominees do.