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Strategy Update: 2016 Special Elections

Strategy Update: 2016 Special Elections

MEMO 3.9.16

TO: Interested Parties
FROM:Jessica Post, Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee
RE:Upcoming Special Elections

 


Below is an update on the key upcoming state legislative special elections in New York and Maine.

Key Points

  • Democrats are in a 15-20 minority in the Maine Senate. This chamber presents a top-tier opportunity to pick up a Democratic majority in November. Holding SD 32 in the March 29 special election is crucial to achieving that goal.
     
  • A win in the New York SD 9 special election on April 19 could potentially flip the chamber from Republican to Democratic majority.
     
  • These special elections come on the heels of recent Democratic successes in recent specials and the most recent general state legislative elections.
    • Last summer, Democrats won key special elections in previously-Republican suburban districts in PennsylvaniaGeorgia, and Oklahoma.
       
    • Democrats went on to pick up seats in the Louisiana Senate, VirginiaHouse, and New Jersey Assembly in last November’s general elections.
       
    • On March 8, Democrats won three of four key KentuckyHouse special elections, picking up a seat and increasing our majority to 53-47, despite massive spending by conservative special interest groups.
      • Also on March 8, Democrats flipped a Republican-leaning House seat in New Hampshire, where Democrats plan to pick up majorities in both legislative chambers this fall.
         
  • Additionally, Democratic legislative candidates nationwide are positioned for significant gains in this fall’s elections, and the DLCC is investing in key targets nationwide to maximize Democratic success at the state level.

Maine

Background

Democratic Senator David Dutremble resigned in late January to focus on his health. A special election will be held on March 29 in Senate District 32, which encompasses parts of York County, including the towns of Biddeford, Kennebunk, and Kennebunkport.

Democrats were in a 15-20 minority before the resignation of Senator Dutremble. We believe the Maine Senate presents a prime opportunity to flip a chamber from a Republican to Democratic majority in November, and keeping this seat is crucial to that effort. The district tilts slightly Democratic, but Governor LePage won the district by 1200 votes in 2014 (while the Democratic and Independent candidates split the Democratic-leaning vote share).

The Campaign

Sue Deschambault, a former prison social worker and retired SEIU member with deep roots in the community, is the Democratic nominee. The Republican nominee is retired police officer Stephen Martin.

Path Forward

This special election is a high priority for the DLCC. We have confidence in the state caucus operation and believe this Senate majority is a prime pick-up opportunity in November. Available data indicates a clear path to victory for Democrat Sue Deschambault. Our main considerations are balancing our investments here with support for other high-priority special elections as well as our 2016 general election programs across the country.

New York

Background

Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos was convicted of corruption in December 2015, opening up his Long Island Senate seat and putting the chamber’s slim Republican majority at risk. Senate District 9 is in Nassau County and performs roughly evenly for Democrats and Republicans. Democrats have performed well at the top of the ticket in SD9 in recent years; President Obama received 53.5% of the vote here in 2012, and Governor Cuomo received 52.2% of the vote here in 2014.

A number of political complexities muddy the situation in the New York Senate. On paper, the chamber is now tied with 31 Democrats and 31 Republicans, pending the outcome of the special election. However, one elected Democrat caucuses with Republicans. Additionally, a group of five senators participate in their own “Independent Democratic Caucus.” We have reason to believe that these lawmakers will return to the Democratic caucus if a Democrat wins this special election.

The Campaign

Democrats have nominated current state Assembly member Todd Kaminsky. Kaminsky’s fundraising has been strong, and he has significant cash on hand. Kaminsky’s record as a former federal prosecutor focused on public integrity cases makes him an excellent contrast to Skelos’s record of Republican corruption.

Personal injury attorney Chris McGrath is the Republican nominee. Two Republican Assembly members passed on the race. While we expect McGrath’s campaign to be well-funded, he’s already facing questions from women’s groups about bankrolling a pair of R-rated sex comedies that include gratuitous, objectifying nude scenes.

Path Forward

Senate District 9 is historically a swing district, but sophisticated on-the-ground field and targeting tactics and Kaminsky’s strength as a candidate position Democrats for a pick-up here in April. We believe this special election presents a unique opportunity to flip and maintain a long-term Democratic majority in New York. We will be heavily involved financially and strategically.

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