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Trump Could Affect Downballot Races in New York

Hillary Clinton’s widening lead over Donald Trump is likely to affect downballot races for Congress, where there are several contested seats, and for control of the state Senate in New York, where Republicans are barely clinging to the majority.

As recently as the summer, when the presidential candidates were tied in the polls, leading New York Republicans predicted that the state would be in play for Trump — and that he could even help get downballot GOP candidates for Congress and the state Legislature elected.

Trump’s New York campaign leader and 2010 gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino predicted victory by driving up votes upstate and on Long Island to make up for the Democratic stronghold of New York City.

“We’re going to win big in Long Island and in upstate,” Paladino predicted in July.

Paladino hasn’t changed his mind about Trump’s chances, but others in the Republican Party are now more doubtful. Erie County GOP chairman Nick Langworthy conceded that while Trump might still win in the Buffalo area, his chances for winning the state are slim to nonexistent.

“We’re not a competitive battleground state,” Langworthy said. “Given the enrollment disadvantage our state faces, I don’t see ultimately the electoral votes being a possibility for Donald Trump.”

Although the state does have a heavy Democratic voter enrollment advantage, the GOP has held the state Senate nearly nonstop for decades, partly due to the drawing of Senate districts to maximize Republican voters. Currently the GOP is one seat short of holding an absolute majority. One Democrat, Simcha Felder, meets with their conference.

The leader of the Senate GOP, John Flanagan, was very enthusiastic about Trump at the National Convention back in July.

“I am supporting Donald Trump for president,” Flanagan declared. “I’m going to do so with grace, with diplomacy, with passion, with fervor.”

In recent weeks, though, after the charges of sexual harassment against Trump became public, Flanagan said through a spokesman that the comments were “offensive and intolerable” and “do not represent the values” of the Senate Republicans. But he did not withdraw his support of Trump.

There is also a corruption scandal on Long Island that could hurt GOP candidates. The Republican Nassau County executive, among others, is facing charges. Former Senate Leader Dean Skelos, who is facing prison time, is also from Long Island. He’s already been replaced by a Democrat.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, long criticized by others in his party for his camaraderie with the Senate Republicans and for not doing enough to help Democrats get elected to the Senate, has changed his tactics in recent days as the Trump candidacy has weakened.

For the first time since he’s been governor, Cuomo headlined a major fundraiser for the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. He also was the featured speaker at a rally for two Democratic Senate candidates on Long Island: Todd Kaminsky, who won Skelos’ Senate seat, and Adam Haber, a Democrat running in an open seat vacated by Sen. Jack Martins, a Republican who is running for Congress.

“These are two men who will do the right thing,” Cuomo said to applause.

There are also several close congressional races in New York where presidential candidate preference and turnout could have an effect.  

In the 19th District, former Assembly Minority Leader John Faso is tied with Democrat Zephyr Teachout, the Fordham professor who challenged Cuomo in a primary in 2014. Faso, in a recent debate on public television, parsed his stance on Trump carefully. Faso said he has not endorsed Trump, and still does not know who he will vote for in the presidential race. But he said that should not be confusing to voters.

“My position has been clear from the start,” Faso said. “I will support the Republican ticket, but I do have qualms about many of the things that have been said.”

Steve Greenberg, a political analyst and spokesman for Siena College polls, said the presidential candidate may not have as much of an effect on Republican downballot races as many think. He said Republican candidates are adept at standing on their own merits and persuading voters in a heavily Democratic state to also vote for the GOP in some races.

“Republicans in New York have gotten used to the fact that they need to get voters who vote Democrat for some offices to come and support them,” Greenberg said.

He also said New York voters have shown many times in the past that they have no trouble splitting the ticket.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.