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Could GOP senators, newly in the minority, lose more members?

Aug 27, 2019

The ranks of Senate Republicans in New York have been greatly diminished over the past year, with losses in the November elections and other GOP senators saying this summer that they are seeking new jobs.

Republicans held the state Senate for nearly a century, with only a pair of two-year breaks when the Democrats gained power. But that ended last November, when the GOP lost eight seats. They now have just 22 Republican senators to the Democrats' 40 seats. 

When the GOP lost the majority before, it was by a much narrower margin, and Republicans always won back enough seats in the following election to regain control of the Senate. 

The state Republican Party chair, Nick Langworthy, said he believes that can happen again.

"I start with the premise that if we lost it in one election, we should be able to gain it back in one election," Langworthy said in an interview with public radio and TV.

Langworthy admitted, though, that he faces tougher odds the next time there are statewide elections in November 2020.

In addition to 2018's big losses, other Republican senators have left or are trying to leave.

The Senate Finance Committee chair, Cathy Young, won re-election, but exited the Senate in the first months of this year's session for a job with Cornell University. Young had tried, unsuccessfully, to become the Senate's minority leader.

Sen. Bob Antonacci, the former Onondaga County comptroller, was elected to fill the seat held by longtime Syracuse-area Republican John DeFrancisco. But Antonacci is now on the November ballot to be a Supreme Court judge.

Two western New York GOP senators, Robert Ortt and Chris Jacobs, say they will run in a primary for the congressional seat held by embattled Rep. Chris Collins, who has not yet said whether he will seek re-election.

And at least two other Republican senators have expressed concerns over a new rule that could end senators' ability to earn any significant outside income after next year.

Sen. George Amedore, a builder who represents parts of the Capital Region and the Hudson Valley, has not yet said whether he'll seek another term. And Sen. Tom O'Mara from the Elmira area, who also has a private law practice, is one of several lawmakers who have filed a lawsuit against the ban on outside income, and has not yet made a commitment to seek re-election.  

Langworthy said he can't blame Republican senators who are in the minority for leaving for better opportunities. 

"When you're in a minority situation, it's more difficult to keep people and retain them if they see another opportunity to advance their career," he said.  

But he said he is optimistic and hopes in that in the local elections this year, he can begin to rebuild the party by fielding good candidates. And he said President Donald Trump, though unpopular with the majority of New Yorkers, does have great appeal in some parts of upstate and rural regions. Trump will be at the top of the ticket next November, and that could help Republican candidates in some state Senate districts.

Langworthy, who took over the chairmanship from Ed Cox in July, said he is actively recruiting candidates. 

"We are on a recruitment mission right now to find the best and the brightest candidates," Langworthy said. "Some new faces, some young faces, finding more female candidates is a No. 1 priority of ours." 

A spokesman for the Senate Democrats, Mike Murphy, called Langworthy "delusional." And he predicted more losses for the Republicans if they further tie the New York GOP to Trump, and what Murphy said are the president's "radical and hateful policies" that have "no place in New York." 

Scott Reif, a spokesman for the Senate Republicans, said he agrees with Langworthy's statements, but that it's premature to speculate on future election plans for Senate Republicans. He said members will make their decisions "at the appropriate time."