In 1990, I waged a campaign for the New York State Senate wherein the issues of gun control and abortion were front and center on every Democrat’s campaign literature.Thirty-two years later, it looks like Democrats will be highlighting those two issues once more.
For various reasons, those issues were not very successful in toppling the control that the Republican Senate bloc from Long Island wielded. It should be interesting to see if they move the needle for the Democrats any further this November.
In 1990, I was an up and coming two-term Democratic county legislator hailing from a very Republican district. I was facing long-time incumbent, Caesar Trunzo.
That year, crime was out of control, with the number of murders dwarfing even the outlandish count we have seen over the last three years. Meanwhile, the abortion issue was one that Democrats felt engaged with ideologically, and felt was a winner, given that two-thirds of the electorate supported Roe v.Wade.
While I’ve been a Republican since 2010, in the early part of my career I served as a fiscally conservative, socially moderate Democrat, along the lines of a John F. Kennedy Democrat (pro-America, pro-tax cuts, pro-civil rights).
That kind of Democrat is becoming more difficult to find in today’s Democratic Party. In fact, anyone labeled as such could possibly lose a primary to a progressive.
Anyway, as I strategized with the professional operators flown in from Albany and Washington, we battled quite a bit on the direction of the campaign.
The out-of-town political pros, who knew nothing of Long Island, based their campaigns solely on polling. And the polling showed that average voters felt strongly about banning assault weapons and keeping choice available on abortion.
But I tried to tell them that while the poll showed the public’s preference, it did not measure passion. As a retail politician who was known for knocking on the doors of constituents of all parties, it was clear to me that there were three issues of import to the people I represented: taxes, taxes and taxes. (Yes, even then in 1990.)
I wanted to run a campaign on controlling spending and returning tax dollars to our over beligured residents.
I was talking about a property tax cap 20 years before it became a reality. But this was foreign stuff to the Washington/Albany cabal.
They saw that people were worried about crime, but were mistaken in thinking that the average person believed a ban on assault weapons was going to solve the problem. Most voters realized that the real answer to solving the crime problem was to take the illegal guns out of the hands of the criminals.
That theory was proved correct a half-decade later when Mayor Giuliani implemented “broken windows” and “stop and frisk” policies that dramatically changed New York for the better.
And yes, while 2/3 of voters supported Roe, few thought that it was a germaine issue, since it was considered settled law. Few felt their access to abortion was going to be changed one way or the other by the results of the 1990 election.
But that may have changed dramatically this year after the Supreme Court placed the issue back into the hands of the state legislatures. For the first time in a lifetime, many voters believe that the ballot they cast could have an impact on the issue.
In a few months we will be able to tell whether the issue is volatile enough to offset the usual shellacking that the party in power experiences at a midterm election.
Prior to the Dobbs v. Jackson case, the GOP was teeing up for what was probably going to be the biggest annihilation of the party in power in decades. It is still likely to be a red year, but rather than a tidal wave, the abortion controversy could make it more of a ripple.
While Republicans should still have a lock on the House, the Senate will be far trickier.
Crime is on the rise again, as it was in 1990 and people are right to be scared. Mass shootings in a Buffalo supermarket and a Texas school is senseless and revolting to the mainstream voter, but most correlate the increases in crime to the recently enacted bail reforms and the defund the police movement that has been shared in by the left since the George Floyd murder.
And with Congress having just passed some around-the-edges reforms in a somewhat bi-partisan fashion, the issue may simmer down.
In 1990, as I was heading into the last few weeks of the election, I knew that the playbook being implemented by the Democratic operatives wasn’t going to work.They were too obsessed with their vague polls and not concentrating enough on what the people on the ground really cared about, which was being able to stay in their homes due to confiscatory taxes.
This year, with gas prices hitting $5 a gallon and inflation hovering over 8%, there is little the Democrats can do to persuade voters that they have a fix in mind.
They will be blamed for these economic woes, and the only question remaining is whether the passions that have been brought to a boil as a result of the overturning of Roe is enough to mitigate the red wave that was expected. We shall see.