Blue York: Paladino saves the day, Schumer wins and loses

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Andrew Cuomo. (Photo via Andrew Cuomo 2010.)
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Carl Paladino killed the revolution, as it turns out.

Republicans had their share of successes across the state on Election Day, picking up at least five House seats and possibly control of the State Senate. But they also failed to win two very winnable contests for statewide office.

The day before voters headed to the polls, a Siena poll found the contests for attorney general and comptroller all knotted up. For different reasons, each race was unusually competitive this year, but the overarching factor was the hostile political climate for Democrats—the worst atmosphere for the party, by far, since 1994. 1994 is also, not coincidentally, the last time a Republican won one of the lower-profile statewide offices, with Dennis Vacco defeating Karen Burstein for A.G.

But tonight, even as Republicans posted gains across the country comparable to what they achieved in '94, Dan Donovan came up well short against Eric Schneiderman in the race for attorney general, while Harry Wilson fell just short in his bid to unseat Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.

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The biggest difference between then and now? In '94, George Pataki ran at the top of the ticket for Republicans, ousting Mario Cuomo by three points. But this year, the G.O.P. was saddled with the pathetically unelectable Carl Paladino, who finished with just 34 percent, a showing that probably doomed his ticket-mates (who'd spent the fall trying to pretend they didn't know him).

Another sign of the Paladino drag: Kirsten Gillibrand's 26-point win in her Senate campaign against Joe DioGuardi; in '94, it's worth remembering, the titanic Daniel Patrick Moynihan was held to just 54 percent of the vote. By Bernadette Castro.

WE CAN ONLY GUESS WHAT CHUCK SCHUMER is feeling today. In New York, it was a good night for him. He won his third Senate term with 66 percent of the vote—only a few points off what he got in 2004, running against a developer named Howard Mills— and his new protégé, Gillibrand, coasted with a similar (though slightly smaller) share.

But nationally, he saw his chance to become the Senate's majority leader evaporate, maybe for good. Things seemed to be lining up perfectly for Schumer a few days ago, when a string of polls showed Harry Reid, the current majority leader, falling four points behind Sharron Angle, his very Republican opponent. Just enough voters in Nevada, it seemed, were putting their reservations about Angle aside for the chance to vote out the deeply unpopular incumbent.

Had Reid lost, Schumer would have been the odds-on favorite to defeat Illinois' Richard Durbin in the race to succeed him as leader—a position he might have held for years to come.

Instead, Reid will return to the Capitol as something of a folk hero to his Democratic colleagues, who will happily reelect him. The question now is how long he stays as leader. It may just be for two years; Democrats, after banner years in 2000 and 2006, face potentially significant losses in 2012, even if Barack Obama is reelected. It's conceivable Reid will stand down then, opening the door for Schumer, who would then be 62. But if Reid pushes on past 2012, the clock will be ticking for Schumer, with fresh, younger would-be leaders steadily emerging.

In fairness, Schumer has said all along that he wanted Reid to win, and contributed money to help see that it happened, even as he quietly positioned himself to be The Guy in the event that Reid went down. What else could he do?

THE RANGEL RETIREMENT WATCH HAS BEGUN. The real suspense about Rangel's future, as I wrote over the summer, had nothing to do with his reelection campaign, which he was always going to win, even if his vote share was smaller than he's accustomed to.

It has to do with whether he can tolerate returning to Washington as a backbencher. Recall that Rangel flirted with retirement a few years ago, just before the Democrats took back the House in 2006. He'd been hanging around in the hopes of claiming the mighty Ways and Means chairmanship in the event of a Democratic takeover, but after 12 years in the wilderness, it was starting to seem like his party would never win back a majority.

They did in 2006, an event that immediately transformed the 76-year-old Rangel into one of Washington's most powerful figures. But by the end of 2008, scandal had engulfed him, and this past March he was forced to give up his Ways and Means gavel "temporarily."

In reality, the chairmanship was gone for good, even if Democrats had somehow managed to hold the House. As it is, the House that Rangel will return to in January will be dominated by Republicans; he'll be an 80-year-old rank-and-filer in a House minority—and a tainted one at that. He is a man who will never again play a meaningful role, even if Democrats reclaim the House a few years down the line. Here's guessing he calls it quits soon, probably before the next election, and maybe even right after his trial this month by the House ethics panel. He'd be leaving on his terms, and would be able to give a leg up to a handpicked successor in his Harlem-based seat.

MANY HOUSE DEMS DIED THAT ONE MAY LIVE. Which is to say that, in a perverse way, the defeats of John Hall, Michael Arcuri, Scott Murphy, Michael McMahon and Matt Zeller are good news for the state’s surviving House Democrats.

Before Tuesday night, Democrats were facing a very tricky and uncomfortable round of redistricting in 2012. There simply weren't enough Republicans to victimize: the Dems controlled all but two seats in the state, with one district poised to be eliminated through reapportionment.

Now, at least, Democrats will have an opportunity to carve up Republican districts during the redraw, too. But there’s a catch: If the G.O.P. does manage to grab control of the State Senate, Democrats won’t be able to impose their will unilaterally, since both parties would get to appoint the same number of members to the redistricting panel.

THE FOLLOWING IS AN OBLIGATORY MENTION: CUOMO 2016. You know he has the ambition, and as the governor of one of the country’s largest states, Andrew Cuomo’s name will be spoken in a presidential-contender context a lot between now and 2016. Think about it: even George Pataki managed to convince the political class to take him (semi-) seriously as a White House contender!

Obviously, talk of a Cuomo presidential campaign is—and will remain for some time, if not forever—entirely hypothetical. But if he can avoid scandal, catch a break with the economy and win reelection in 2014, there’s no reason he won’t be able to work his way into the ’16 discussion in a serious way.

Cuomo, some people who know him have said, has a less complicated relationship with ambition than his father ever did; he would not, to hear them tell it, have left that plane idling back in 1991. Of course, even if Andrew does dream of running for presidency, and even if he is able to use the governorship to put himself in position to pursue it, he could easily be derailed if Hillary Clinton decides she wants to be the New York candidate for the next open Democratic presidential nomination.