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Hasty redistricting has rattled the playing field for New York primaries

Friction and fresh opportunities envelop New York City congressional districts, while the race for governor stays solidly in favor of the incumbent. 

MANHATTAN (CN) — New York Democrats are used to winning in the deep blue state. But the party, especially in the Big Apple, will have to find its footing in the upcoming primary election, with the reshuffling of congressional districts turning decadeslong political partners into rivals and creating a wide field of newcomers. 

If you were to bet on a race this year, though, things are looking remarkably good for Governor Kathy Hochul. The incumbent governor has a 57% majority, trailed distantly by challengers Tom Suozzi at 17% and Jumaane Williams at 6% of “very likely” voters, according to an Emerson College poll. 

Hochul may have enjoyed an extra boost of support after passing gun safety legislation in early June, following the racist attack at a Tops supermarket in Buffalo that left 10 people dead at the hands of a white gunman. Hochul''s 10-bill package bans the sale of semiautomatic weapons to people under age 21 and prohibits selling most body armor to civilians. 

That’s a real sign of strength, said John Kane, a clinical assistant professor at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs. 

“To pass anything right now is a huge accomplishment compared to what's going on at the national level,” Kane said. 

The measure hasn’t spared Hochul from criticism by her competitors. She was flanked in a recent debate by the progressive Williams, the public advocate for New York City, and centrist Suozzi, a congressman out of Long Island's Nassau County. 

Suozzi called out Hochul’s endorsement by the National Rifle Association during her 2012 campaign for state Legislature. Williams criticized the governor’s gun laws as too weak and too slow, and knocked her press events as reminiscent of ex-Governor Andrew Cuomo’s pandemic announcements amid rising death tolls. 

"In between those press conferences, death is happening,” Williams said. “I’m tired of going from press conference to funeral.” 

Williams said Hochul should have put money used for the $18 million Buffalo Bills stadium update toward gun violence prevention. Both challengers cried corruption on the job since Hochul’s husband, former U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr., is now senior vice president and general counsel at the stadium’s hospitality partner, Delaware North. 

The company “sells $11 beers to people,” plus NFL tickets are often unaffordable, yet taxpayers are putting up money for the face-lift, Suozzi said. 

Questions also arose about Hochul’s former lieutenant governor, Brian Benjamin, who resigned after he was arraigned on federal bribery charges connected to his last election campaign. Hochul called it a disappointment and hopes to regain voters’ trust following that “setback," as she termed it. 

Still, Hochul can probably dodge those critiques, Kane said. The post-Trump debate era has changed the game.

“Some glaring issue in your past, if it’s not a winning issue, or you don’t want to be on defense, you can kind of push right through it, and there may not be much consequence,” Kane explained.

Democrats lead Republicans by a “baseline” of 15 to 20 points, Kane said. “At the national level, most people remember Obama handily beating McCain — that was 7 points,” he added. 

Still, the Republican race could offer a window into “just how much a plus or a minus” it is to have ties to Trump, said Grant Reeher, a political science professor at Syracuse University. 

In a gubernatorial campaign video that takes aim at Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and Representatives Jerry Nadler and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Andrew Giuliani promises to stage New York's "comeback" from years of Democratic leadership. (Image via Courthouse News)

Duking it out for the Republican ticket are U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, businessman Harry Wilson and Andrew Giuliani. The son of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is a former White House aide and a close ally of former President Donald Trump. 

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Zeldin, too, is a Trump supporter and has contested the results of the 2020 election. 

Polls show Zeldin ahead of Giuliani by the double digits, with 34% of the vote and 13% for Giuliani. Zeldin’s big following is in the suburbs, pollsters say, while Giuliani is as high as 25% among city voters. 

Over in New York’s congressional primary, the state’s newly redrawn districts are shaking things up. The new map drawn by court-appointed special master Jonathan R. Cervas was solidified just as candidates had to finalize their bids to get on the ballot. 

The close timing amps up uncertainty in the race and party. 

“All of a sudden, if you're reorganizing the districts and you're coming up against these time deadlines … it changes the calculation,” Reeher said. “It would work to the benefit of potential challengers to whoever’s currently in that district’s office especially.” 

Meaning candidates who may have held off from running — not wanting to risk a current seat, or wanting to “keep their powder dry” for a better race — may take the opportunity to jump in. 

That seems to be precisely what’s happening in two hot New York City districts. 

Redistricting has pitted two long-term colleagues against each other in Manhattan’s newly drawn 12th district. Representatives Jared Nadler and Carolyn Maloney are squaring off after a long parallel political careers, each serving 30 years in the House of Representatives. 

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, acting chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, joined at left by Rep. Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, meet with reporters on Oct. 31, 2019, to discuss the next steps of the impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

The two had conversations about one of them taking on a neighboring district, but they went nowhere, Nadler told The New York Times. Maloney leads Nadler by 10 points, though more than a third of voters are undecided

Nadler has left a hole the 10th district, covering lower Manhattan and part of Brooklyn. That ballot has now filled up with more than a dozen candidates, including big local names: Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou; Representative Mondaire Jones, who opted not to re-run in his current Westchester district; and most recognizably, former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. 

De Blasio announced his run for office on May 20, the same day the new map was finalized. 

“Of course,” Reeher summed up. Well aware he’s scorned by many New Yorkers, de Blasio probably wouldn’t have challenged the longtime incumbent Nadler. Now things are different, and being the former mayor doesn’t hurt. 

“Not all of it is good, but I’ve got 100% name recognition,” Reeher said of the former mayor. 

Plus, de Blasio has enough of a machine behind him to fire off his late-notice campaign at “light speed,” with just a few weeks to go. 

“You’ve got to go from zero to 60 in a second, and only certain people are going to be able to do that and be competitive,” Reeher said, “de Blasio being one of them.” 

It’s not in the bag for de Blasio. For now, he’s in a roughly three-way tie with Jones and Niou, but a hefty 77% of voters haven’t made up their minds. 

Democrats have panicked at losing ground in the new congressional districts. Representative Sean Patrick Maloney warned of an “extinction-level event” after the Democrats’ proposed maps were invalidated. Others predicted chaos

Reeher doesn’t think the drama is warranted. 

“It’ll matter, but I think it’ll matter at the margins when you’re looking at the overall seats won and lost,” Reeher said.  

Redistricting added yet another wrinkle to the electoral process: New Yorkers will vote on two different dates. The June 28 primary will cover the races for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller and U.S. Senate. Races for Congress and state Senate have been pushed to August 23. 

The general election is November 8.

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