“Pivot” Suffolk County, NY Is Now “Pivoting” Back to Democrats—Congratulations Steve Stern! April 29, 2018
“Pivot Counties.” Many political analysts pointed to “Pivot Counties” as a major factor in Donald’s surprise electoral upset. “Pivot Counties” were the 206 counties that “pivoted” or turned to vote for Republican Trump in 2016 after having voted for Democrat Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. And not all “Pivot Counties” were in “Red” or swing states. Eighteen (18) of those 206 “Pivot Counties” were located in bright “Blue” NY. The “NY 18” accounted for 8.74% of the total “Pivot Counties.” In 2016, the 206 “Pivot Counties” accounted for 5.5% of all votes cast in that election. Collectively, Donald won these “Pivot Counties” by more than 580,000 votes. Suffolk County was one of those Empire State “Pivot Counties.” In 2016, Suffolk County pivoted to Trump by a 6.84% margin. Obama had carried Suffolk by 5.99% in 2008 and 3.69% in 2012 (Leip, Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections).
After 15 months of Demagogue Donald, Suffolk County, NY appears to be pivoting again, back to “Team Blue.” On 4/24/2018, with just over six months to go before the crucial 11/2016 midterm elections, Democrat Steve Stern flipped from “Red” to “Blue” NY State Assembly District (AD)-10 in Suffolk County. Stern won AD-10 by an 18% margin, 59%-41%. Stern’s victory came in a special election. Stern replaced the former GOP Assemblyman who had won election as a Huntington town supervisor in 11/2017. The NY AD-10 has been in GOP hands since 1978. The AD-10 is the 40th legislative seat that Democrats have grabbed from the GOP since Trump won in 2016 (dlcc.org, 4/24/18, blog.timesunion.com, Yglesias, Vox, 4/24/18). Let’s view this race.
Suburban Suffolk County, NY constitutes the Empire State’s easternmost county and is located on Long Island. It is NY’s fourth-most populous county with a 2017 population of 1,492, 953 (census.gov, naco.org). Major research facilities located in Suffolk Island include Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Huntington. Before WWII, Suffolk County was an agricultural area known for its potato fields. After the war, tens of thousands of veterans and their families, who had previously lived in cramped New York City apartment and row houses, moved to the Long Island suburbs to live in single-family houses with spacious lots. Developers looking for cheaper land for factories, shopping centers, and office parks, first went to Nassau County, east of Queens County, and then further eastward to Suffolk County. Aircraft manufacturers became big Suffolk County employers. Suffolk County attracted mainly families of Irish and Italian descent and was more blue-collar than Nassau County. Recently, Suffolk has been attracting Latinos, including Puerto Ricans and Salvadorans. Hispanics now make up 17% of Suffolk’s population (Barone 14 & CQ Political Almanacs).
Politically, Suffolk County was long one of NY’s most conservative areas. In 1972, Nixon won 70% of Suffolk’s vote. Today, however, Suffolk is very swingy. Democratic voter registration numbers have almost drawn even with GOP ones. Suffolk voted solidly for Gore in 2000, but narrowly went for “W” Bush in 2004. As previously noted, Suffolk County swung to Obama in 2008 and 2012, before pivoting to Trump in 2016. Two of the three Congressmen that currently represent Suffolk County are on “Team Red,” Lee Zeldin in NY’s 1st Congressional District (CD) and Peter King in NY’s 2nd CD. Democrat Tom Suozzi represents the NY 3rd CD which contains parts of Suffolk County (115th Congress At Your Fingertips, Barone & CQ 14). The 4/2017 Cook Partisan Voting Index (PVI) for the NY 1st CD is an R+5, R+3 in the NY 2nd, and a D+1 in the NY 3rd. These constitute scores typical for swing districts.
The NY AD-10th is in Cong. Suozzi’s district. The AD-!0th is located entirely in Suffolk County. The 10th includes the cities of Huntington, Huntington Station, and Melville. Cold Spring Harbor, and parts of Dix Hills and East Farmingdale are also located in the 10th (newsday.com, Schwartz, 4/25/18). The GOPer who left the 10th AD first won this seat in 2012 and coasted to re-election in 2014 and 2016 (newsday.com, 4/25/18).
Dix Hills Democrat Steve Stern (49) is an attorney who specialized in elder law and estate planning. For 12 years, he served in the Suffolk County Legislature, but was term-limited in 2017. During his legislative service, he worked on veterans, public safety, and environmental issues (suffolkcountydems.com). In 2016, Stern ran for the NY 3rd open congressional seat, but lost the primary to now Dem. Cong. Suozzi (newsday.com, Brandster). In his special election campaign for the 10th AD, Stern campaigned to seek additional state funding to expand Suffolk County sewer infrastructure. He stated he would seek more funding for after-school programs to keep young people away from gangs such as MS-13 (newsday.com, Schwartz, 4/25/18).
What did Stern’s opponent, GOP attorney Janet Smitelli, run on? Why the old Republican “favorite,” trying to turn the MS-13 Latino street gang into Stern’s running mate. Translation: playing the Willie Horton/Guillermo Hortinez race card perfected into an “art form” by Demagogue Donald. During the campaign’s closing weeks, the local GOP, with no condemnation from Smitelli, sent out mailers falsely blaming Stern’s prior legislative actions for an explosion in illegal immigration and an increase in MS-13 violence that made schools and communities in the area “unsafe and dangerous (vox.com, Yglesias, 4/24/18, Bohlert, 4/25/18, shareblue.com).” As in the 2017 VA gubernatorial and in the 2018 PA 18th CD special election, the Guillermo Hortinez card failed and “Team Red” lost winnable races (shareblue.com). Stern’s “bigly” win was aided by the backing of two major labor organizations. High energy/ Democratic enthusiasm helped spur “Blue” turnout (thehill.com, 4/24/18, Anapol). Stern ran 11 points ahead of Hillary’s 2016 victorious AD-10 area margin and 15 points ahead of Obama’s 2012 winning margin (vox.com, Yglesias, 4/24/18, Anapol, ”The Hill”). Stern’s 18 -point triumph is, according to “The Hill,” indicative of a growing “blue wave” in this Suffolk County area (Anapol).
Stern stated, “This is an important win for us locally. I also believe it makes residents of the 10th Assembly District part of the national story,” referring to a possible Democratic advantage in 11/2018. Stern called his race a “great win.” He attributed it to “tremendous volunteers and a positive message (newsday.com, Schwartz, 4/25/18).”
According to a comprehensive spreadsheet compiled by Daily Kos, across 70 special elections in 2017, Democrats ran 10 points ahead of Hillary in 2016 and 7 points ahead of Obama in 2012. In 2018, those numbers have accelerated. Across 27 races, Democrats are running 21 points ahead of Hillary and 10 points ahead of Obama (vox.com, Yglesias, 4/24/18).
Once again, congratulations Steve Stern! Is Stern right about his election’s role in the “national story?” Will Suffolk and similar counties pivot back to “Team Blue” on 11/06/2018? Are these special election outcomes good predictors for the 11/2018 House, Senate, and state midterm contests? We can’t yet answer these questions. However, if Democrats in Suffolk County and the rest of the country turn out in droves on 11/06/2018 to repudiate Demagogue Donald and his GOP lackeys, Stern will have been “spot on” about his area’s being part of the “national story.”