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Tuesday features intense battle for the state Senate

NYS Senate

Democrats are leading in the polls in New York’s statewide races for governor, attorney general and comptroller. The most heated contests this Election Day are in the state Senate, where Democrats are trying to win enough seats to take control of the chamber away from Republicans.

The GOP has controlled the state Senate for decades with only a few brief interludes, including in 2009 and 2010, when the Democrats ruled the chamber.

This year, with an unpopular Republican president and the retirement of veteran GOP senators, Democrats believe they have the best chance in a decade of winning enough seats to hold a clear majority.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo predicted Democrats will pick up seats as more New Yorkers reject President Donald Trump’s actions.

“His policies are an affront to all New Yorkers, Democratic, Republican, all across the board,” Cuomo said. “And that’s what November is going to be about.”

Cuomo, who did not actively campaign for Democratic candidates for the Senate in past elections, has been more active this year, speaking at rallies and providing $2 million from his own campaign account and from the state Democratic Party funds to Democratic Senate candidates.

Cuomo’s running mate, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, presides over the state Senate as part of her duties and can cast a tie-breaking vote on procedural matters.

Hochul says if she’s re-elected, and the Democrats win the Senate, she’ll help pass a bill to codify into New York laws the abortion rights in the U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade. She said Democrats are also seeking laws to allow school officials to remove guns from the homes of troubled students.

“We’re basically trying to fix issues that never should have been stopped in the first place by Republicans,” Hochul said.

Hochul said New York needs to reform its voting practices and should adopt practices common in other states, such as mail-in voting and expanded voting days.

Hochul predicted the Democrats could pick up as many as five seats on Tuesday.

Republicans, who currently hold the minimum 32 seats required for the majority with the help of one breakaway Democrat, are far from giving up, though.

In recent days, Senate Leader John Flanagan has held press conferences in Long Island, traditionally a Senate GOP stronghold, telling voters what they stand to lose if the Democrats take over.

Flanagan said the push by some Democrats to enact a single-payer health care plan in New York would cost over $100 billion and result in hospital closures, something proponents deny.

“The single payer is the taxpayer,” Flanagan said. “The bottom line is, it’s coming out of the taxpayer’s pockets.”

The Senate leader warned that the quality of life for many New Yorkers outside of New York City would diminish or even “disappear” under the Democrats’ proposals, which he said include taxpayer-financed political campaigns, state-sponsored heroin injection sites, and income tax surcharges on the upper middle class and the wealthy.

“The Democrats’ plan, it would bankrupt Long Island, it would bankrupt the state of New York,” Flanagan said.

As much as $10 million will be spent on the Senate campaigns this year, according to reports from the New York State Board of Elections. In addition to money from the traditional party campaign committees, unions and independent political action committees also are investing in the races.

Despite all the activity, many upstate Senate districts are reliably Republican, and Democrats solidly hold several New York City seats. Just five seats out of 63 are really considered to be in play. Three are on Long Island. Two are held by GOP incumbents Carl Marcellino and Elaine Phillips. One is held by Democrat John Brooks, who narrowly won the seat two years ago.

Also, two upstate veteran Republican senators are retiring: Bill Larkin in the Hudson Valley and John DeFrancisco in the Syracuse area. Democrats and Republicans running for those seats are in very close contests.

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.