09 February, 2006

Spano Says He's Dems' No. 1 Target In NY This Year

New York Democrats are eyeing a prize they have not won for 40 years - the state senate.

With well-known national GOP figures facing indictment and scandal, and President Bush having difficulty putting his approval rating on firm footing, state Democrats are hoping to capitalize on this moment of Republican weakness to make solid gains in the state senate in November.

Chris Malone, a political science professor at Pace University, says reversing the 35-27 Republican majority in the state Senate may be a bit of a stretch this year. But Malone says picking up a couple of seats is very doable, setting the stage for a possible takeover by 2008.

Malone says two local seats will be among those targeted by the Democrats - the 35th District seat held by Sen. Nick Spano, R-Yonkers, and the 38th District seat of Sen. Thomas Morahan, R-New City.

Spano, who won his 2004 race against Democrat Andrea Stewart-Cousins by 18 votes and after four months of post-election challenges, readily admits he will face a stiff challenge again. "I expect to be the number one target of the Democrats in the state this year and this race will be as competitive as it was last time," Spano said.

No challenger has materialized to take on Morahan in Rockland County, but one local political observor, who did not want to be identified, said Democratic officials have told him they have Morahan "in their sights" and that when they name a candidate they will give that candidate strong backing. A phone call and e-mail message to Morahan were not returned.

Malone says Democrats in the local races will benefit by having two popular politicians at the top of the ticket, Sen. Hillary Clinton, who is seeking re-election, and Secretary of State Eliot Spitzer, who is running for governor. Still, Malone does not see a Democratic takeover in the Senate.

"On a statewide basis, the Democrats are hoping to pick up at least two seats and I think they have a real good chance," he said. "If they make some inroads this year, and particularly if Hillary Clinton becomes the Democratic nominee for president, the Democrats may be able to retake the Senate in 2008."

Malone believes the Republican Party "is in crisis at the state level" and in trouble throughout the Northeast because of the national party's socially conservative image. Moderate Republicans of the region, he said, are having trouble divorcing themselves from GOP policies that "play well in Texas or Alabama or Mississippi."

For his part Spano stressed that he disagrees with the national party on most social issues, singling out "choice" (abortion), gay rights and "support of working men and women and the labor movement."

But Malone says bucking the national party is becoming increasingly difficult. "What we could be seeing (over the next several years) is the death of the Northeast moderate Republican."

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