Election Day is nigh (again). We realize it’s tiring and a little confusing, but the primaries are rolling around once more, this time for State Senate and U.S. House. Early voting gets underway this Saturday, Aug. 13, and continues through next Sunday, Aug. 21. Election day is Tuesday, Aug. 23, and you can find your polling place for either early or day-of voting here. Our civics reporter Felipe De La Hoz has the scoop.
It’s important to note that, even though we just had a June primary, this will also be a primary, meaning that you’re not voting for the ultimate victor here but for your party’s nominee for the general election in November (though in New York City, the Democratic primary is often functionally the only competitive contest). We’ve detailed the reasons for this before if you’re curious, but the point is that these are additional primaries, including the only federal primaries in New York this cycle.
Use a voting guide to guide you
There are plenty of guides (this one does a good job breaking everything down from who is on the ballot to how you can vote — and why you should!) around to help you on how to prepare to vote, check your registration and such. What’s more interesting is what to look out for and what to have in mind when choosing how to vote and the ultimate significance of this election in this political moment.
It is a long-standing truism that the party of the president in power has a bad year in the midterm elections, and up until very recently most indicators gave cause to believe that this year would be no different or even worse than usual. President Biden’s approval ratings have been persistently low. Inflation reached a 40-year high, negating wage gains and putting working families around the country in a difficult position, in part due to skyrocketing gas prices.
The Federal Reserve responded with interest rate hikes that threatened to over-correct and throw the country into a deep recession. Covid-19 has never fully gone away, and the federal posture has been more hands-off in the last few months than some had hoped for. Despite holding both houses of Congress and the presidency, Democrats seemed absolutely stuck legislatively, failing again and again to reach party-wide compromises to enact Biden’s agenda. Republicans had fixated on a number of emotional culture-war issues and used the increasingly militant election-denying wing of the party to rally voters. Things were not looking good.
Political landscape has made noticeable shift
Then, in the span of a couple months, the panorama shifted significantly. The Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in a wave of conservative legal victories. That was undoubtedly a win for the Republicans, but anyone who doubted that this would provoke a significant counter-response and energize Democratic voters need only to look to the recent results in deep-red Kansas, where a referendum attempting to add an abortion ban to the state constitution was overwhelmingly and unexpectedly defeated. Gas prices have dived, falling back below an average of $4 a gallon, and while inflation remains high, it has somewhat stabilized. Despite recession fears, the economy has remained strong and July’s jobs report massively exceeded expectations, showing that the country added 528,000 jobs, bringing employment numbers to pre-pandemic levels.
In Washington, the Congress managed to pass the massive industrial policy achievement of the CHIPS Act, which seeks to develop a massive homegrown semiconductor industry. More importantly, after months of stalling, Senate Democrats reached a deal to salvage parts of the Build Back Better framework in the form of the Inflation Reduction Act, which is the most significant effort in climate policy in U.S. history, and which will also reform unpopular aspects of the healthcare system and create jobs. It’s safe to say that the Democrats’ prospects have improved considerably, if not a lock for keeping the House and Senate, which is still going to be a tall order.
This is all, of course, happening months before the general election, and lots could change between now and then, just as lots has changed in the last couple of months. But it does have relevance to the primaries in the sense that Democratic voters should be thinking not only about which candidate they prefer but which candidate is likeliest to triumph in November, and which can most effectively work to achieve their political preferences in a legislative body where they’ll have a slim margin or be in the minority outright. That connects to broader intra-party struggles over the most effective ways forward: hold tight to principles and fight fire with fire against an increasingly radical GOP, or tilt toward incrementalism and use what common ground there remains to hash out deals with Republican counterparts.
It’s also worth noting that, in a poll conducted by friends of the newsletter GenForward, almost everyone of all ages believed as of mid July that the country was going in the wrong direction, with around 70% or more of respondents in all ages, all party affiliations, and of every race saying that the nation is on the wrong track. The key to the electoral victory seems to be to act as an alternative, without necessarily trashing the progress your own party has made.
Concerns about the economy, rent and inflation
As with prior recent surveys, the main concerns revolve around the economy, which makes sense. Housing prices in New York City have continued to skyrocket to record highs, with the median rents in Manhattan hitting $4,100 in recent weeks, and inflation still hitting people hard. Even as employment remains strong and wages nominally increase, the cost of necessities like childcare and higher education just keeps climbing, and young people in particular seem pessimistic about their financial health. A full 69% of the 18-26 cohort described the nation’s economy as either somewhat poor or very poor. Recent legislation like the IRA is intended to help with these perceptions, but it will be up to Democrats to sell this vision before it really starts bearing fruit.
The Congressional primaries will set the stage for the battles heading into November, and it will be interesting to see the type of candidates voters will choose as their stand-ins. On the GOP side, several alt-right, election denier types have won crucial primaries like the Arizona gubernatorial race. The results in the next few weeks will to some extent sketch out the future of our political discourse.
Big names on the ballot
We’ve mentioned before some of the big races in the city; the two most up in the air are probably the 10th congressional district in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, where the candidates include young progressives like Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou and Councilmember Carlina Rivera, counsel for the first Trump impeachment Dan Goldman, and former Rep. Liz Holtzman who is attempting a comeback after her days battling with Nixon in Congress in the 1970s. Now we have the benefit of some debates under the belt, and they have sometimes been acrimonious. Rivera was attacked relentlessly for her support for the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project (which we profiled recently), Goldman for being the heir to a large fortune and some would say a political dilettante and Rep. Mondaire Jones for running in the district at all after the redistricting rejiggered his more exurban current district.
Sparks have also flown in the 12th district race, which has pitted longtime Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jerry Nadler, both chairs of significant committees, against each other after the redistricting nullified the East-West division their districts formerly had and created a district spanning the length of Manhattan from roughly 18th Street up to about Central Park North. Each tried to compare their voting record and general efforts favorably with the other, with Nadler for example hitting at Maloney for having supported the Iraq War when he stood in opposition, and Maloney rebuking Nadler for supposedly taking credit for the Second Avenue subway. Perennial candidate Suraj Patel, who’s on his third run (formerly against only Maloney) struck at the both of them for having been in Congress for decades and ostensibly not notching enough legislative achievements.
Ultimately, the truth is many of these candidates in both races are not that ideologically apart from each other. Practically all would identify as progressive, in different ways. In a very low turnout race like this second primary, it’s going to be mainly up to name recognition and voters’ feelings about each candidate individually.