Michael Grimm’s retirement is a relief for House GOP leadership. But it is now a headache for Congress Greg Walden, Chairman of the NRCC (National Republican Congressional Committee). Grimm defeated Democratic Congressman Michael McHahon in 2010, was reelected in 2012 and survived a bruising reelection in 2014 while facing felony charges. But his recent decision to accept a plea deal pleading guilty to felony tax evasion charges sealed his fate.
Initially, GOP leadership kept quiet about whether Grimm should stay or go. But soon after Christmas when leadership talked to Grimm he decided to step down. This might be a victory for leadership in keeping their Caucus scandal free but it might make their caucus permanently smaller.
Holding the district is no sure thing for the GOP. Grimm’s district is the quintessential swing district. It voted for McCain in 2008 while electing Democrat Michael McHahon, swung for Grimm in 2010 but supported Andrew Cuomo (D) in his gubernatorial bid and voted for Obama 51%-47% even as Grimm was winning reelection in 2012. Most recently, even as Grimm was cruising to reelection this November the district agin supported Andrew Cuomo.
The district has a PVI of R+2 and geographically includes all of the GOP leaning Staten Island. It also incorporates parts of southern Brooklyn. Not surprisingly, it is the most conservative district in New York City and the only district in the city which leans towards the GOP. The district is diverse with a large number of Jewish, Irish American, Russian American and Italian Americans in Brooklyn and wealthy New Yorkers in Staten Island. The district also includes many NYPD officers who will surely impact the race given recent events.
Democrats are optimistic they can retake this seat in a special election if they find the right candidate. The party is courting former Congress Michael McHahon to run. Mchahon, who represented much of the 11th district in its former designation (NY-13) would give the party a strong candidate with the ability to fundraise. However, McHahon fails to connect to the party’s base of blue-collar whites located in Brooklyn. Grimm exploited this in 2010.
Republicans don’t have a stand out candidate ready to run but they have time to find one. According to NY State election law the Governor must call for a special election to occur no more than 80 days after the announced vacancy. The party district committees pick their nominees, replacing a primary.
At this point it is unclear just show strong a position either party is in. Democrats can be gleeful that Grimm is gone but they will have to spend time and money to take this conservative leaning seat in non-Presidential years. Republicans will have to spend money to hold it.
Ultimately, the result of the special election will not greatly impact the partisan make-up of Congress. Democrats currently control 188 seats to the GOP’s 247. However, if Democrats did take the seat they would have at least 10 members who sit in districts with a Republican leaning PVI. Oh and they would control a whole 189 seats to the GOP’s 246.
But perhaps I am focusing a bit too much on the national dynamic of the race. The WP has a look at how local politics can impact the race. Specifically, Mayor De Blasio and his rift with the city police. To put it bluntly, this district does not like the mayor. The mayor has a 58% disapproval rating while being in positive territory in the rest of the city. De Blasio could not even win Staten Island when he was winning the mayoral race with 73%. If Democrats pick a candidate that is in any way linked to De Blasio this seat is almost impossible to take. Grimm relentlessly attacked his 2014 opponent for being linked to the Mayor and this was before the mayor charged headfirst into racial politics.
The Democratic bench is shallower than the GOP’s. Short of the party’s disastrous 2014 candidate Domenic Recchia, nobody stands out though this is true on the GOP side as well. Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, who has taken De Blasio to task and the special prosecutor in the Eric Garner case, Daniel Donovon, stand out for the GOP. Assemblyman Michael Cusick seems to the Democrats first choice if McHahon decides not to run.
More will follow on this race as it develops and the candidates, their strengths and weaknesses, and how much effort the parties are willing to put into this race, become clearer.