WASHINGTON – Like a Broadway musical – or an absurdist play – the state of New York is conducting primary elections in two acts this year: gubernatorial and certain state elections on Tuesday, congressional and other legislative races in late August.
Party disputes over redistricting led to the two-part primary setup that could reduce turnout, increase friction between the parties and confuse large numbers of voters, political analysts said.
"It's a total mess," said Grant Reeher, director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute at Syracuse University's Maxwell School. "It was an embarrassment to the state. ... It doesn't serve the interests of the voters."
Voters in the know will decide some state elections Tuesday, including State Assembly races and spirited Democratic and Republican primaries for the governor's office.
Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul, the former lieutenant governor who ascended after Andrew Cuomo resigned over sexual harassment claims, is a big favorite over two challengers who assailed her over crime rates.
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Races for the U.S. House and the state Senate are scheduled for Aug. 23.
"It's kind of confusing," said Hank Sheinkopf, a New York political consultant. "So it's a mess."
The New York primary, part one, highlights a busy voting day Tuesday. Colorado, Illinois, Oklahoma and Utah also hold primary elections.
Like many states, New York struggled with drawing congressional and legislative districts because the parties wanted to draw lines to benefit their candidates.
New York tried to avoid the partisan problem by creating an independent commission to draw districts. The commission deadlocked and wound up offering the state Legislature two sets of maps, one plan favoring the Democrats and the other favoring the Republicans.
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The Democratic-dominated Legislature approved a map that heavily favored the majority's party. Courts struck it down as a violation of an anti-gerrymandering provision in the constitutional amendment creating the redistricting commission. A judge appointed a special master to develop a new map that is in use.
Along the way, the courts delayed primary races for congressional and state Senate candidates who will have to run within new district maps. Some candidates are running against former allies who were put into the new districts.
The Tuesday primaries: Hochul
First come the statewide primaries Tuesday.
One potential fallout from the split primaries, analysts said: lower voter turnout for all the races. That would create challenges for underdog candidates who lack name recognition – a factor in both the Republican and Democratic primaries for New York governor.
Hochul, the first female governor in New York state history, enjoys huge fundraising and poll advantages. U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, D-N.Y., and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams made rising crime rates a major criticism against Hochul.
Higher crime rates will be an issue for New York candidates, especially incumbents, up and down the ballot in the fall, analysts said.
Crime feeds into the national sense that "things are out of control," Sheinkopf said.
The Republican primary features a big name: Giuliani.
Andrew Giuliani, whose father, Rudy, worked as a lawyer for Trump during his protests of the 2020 election, is making his first run for public office.
Zeldin, a state senator before his election to Congress in 2014, has more experience. Businessman Harry Wilson and former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino are also running in the Republican primary.
In a debate, Giuliani described Zeldin as insufficiently conservative, citing his criticisms of Trump. Giuliani had to debate via video, having contracted COVID-19.
Zeldin attacked Giuliani for his lack of experience and his troubles in college; he referred to a "Saturday Night Live" skit about young Andrew acting up at one of his father's inaugurations as New York City mayor.
His "claim to fame was that Chris Farley made fun of him on 'Saturday Night Live' for being an obnoxious kid, who ends up becoming more obnoxious and getting kicked off the Duke golf team,” Zeldin said.
The winner of the Republican primary faces an uphill contest against Hochul in this very Democratic state.
Primary, part two: Party infighting
Several other candidates will watch Tuesday's results, if only to get a gauge of turnout in the contests Aug. 23.
The second primary features infighting between liberal Democrats and more moderate voices.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., backs state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi in her race against Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Republicans are also having their fights in the wake of new congressional districts.
Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., a Trump backer and a member of House Republican leadership, is feuding with New York Republican Party Chairman Nick Langworthy – she endorsed his opponent in a congressional primary.
A New York tradition
The two-primary setup may be confusing, frustrating and complex – it is not unprecedented.
Analysts said New York routinely had two sets of primary races, one for federal offices and the other for state positions. Some years, presidential primaries created yet another election day for New York voters.
"New York," Reeher said, "has a long and storied history of irrationality and dysfunction on election dates."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: New York starts two-part primary Tuesday, including Gov. Kathy Hochul