I have lived my entire life in Upstate New York and it still amazes me how much of a mystery the region is to those who live outside the state. The best way to understand who will vote in the Republican Primary on April 19 is to get out a map of the Empire State and look at it. You will no doubt see that most of the state geographically is Upstate, with New York City’s five boroughs tucked in the southeast corner. Then there is Long Island to the east and the “suburbs” to the north of the City. In a typical New York GOP Presidential primary only about 15% of the total vote will come from New York City, and a pretty decent chunk of that will be from New York City’s only Republican pocket – Staten Island – plus parts of Brooklyn and Queens. Another 30% or so will come from New York’s suburbs: Long Island’s Nassau and Suffolk counties, as well as the northern suburbs of Westchester, Rockland, Orange, Duchess, Putnam, Ulster, and Sullivan counties.
There are 49 counties in Upstate New York and while tabloid headlines do reach the news agenda here, most people up here read the New York Post from back to front (i.e. the sports section) and you can hardly find a Daily News on the floor of a men’s room.
So when Ted Cruz has a poorly attended event in The Bronx, it is because someone on his staff did not realize that there very few Republicans in that borough in the first place. And when Cruz attacks New York’s “values”, he doesn’t realize that that has the same impact on New Yorkers in faraway Ogdensburg (on the Canadian border) or in Chautauqua County (over 400 miles from Manhattan) as it does on gay Iranians in London who say they will fight for their country if it is attacked by the West. We New Yorkers are a polyglot but we are one.
With that said we have begun to see what a New York Republican campaign is all about. Donald Trump is known to all, of course, but he has to be here. Upstate New Yorkers resent it when candidates are not present or take them for granted. He is in the process of holding huge events in Buffalo and Rochester, Utica then on to Binghamton and Albany and Troy – and then on to the GOP pockets that matter. John Kasich scheduled an event at my alma mater LeMoyne College in Syracuse. The original venue could hold 300 people and had to be moved to one that could accommodate 600. Just before the Friday event, an announcement came from the school that the Kasich town meeting would be moved to an athletic center that can seat over 2,500 people. Folks wanted to meet the candidate, a moderate conservative.
Which is another good point. Upstate New Yorkers are generally more conservative than residents of the City – but the region is not a conservative one. To be sure, you can see lawn signs in the rural areas opposing Governor Andrew Cuomo’s legislation that bans assault weapons and mandates markings on ammunition manufactured in the state, but polls over the years reveal that Upstate New Yorkers in general tip in favor of choice on abortion, gun control, and gay marriage. The prototypical New York Republican is not Barry Goldwater or William F. Buckley but rather Jacob Javits, Nelson Rockefeller, and George Pataki. The state was represented in the US Senate for six years by conservative James Buckley, William’s brother, but he was fortunate to have been elected in a three-way race against two liberals, winning with only 39% of the vote. Then he lost re-election in 1976 to Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
This is simply not Ted Cruz country. You will not see in New York anything like what happened in Wisconsin. The state party is not rallying around Mr. Cruz. And polls thus far are showing him running a distant third. Native son Donald Trump has a huge lead and will likely win, but the real issue is whether or not he will win with a large enough margin to get his campaign back on a solid footing. The real wild card here is Mr. Kasich. He will need a strong second place finish, a respectable chunk of delegates, and enough support to show that he can really block Mr. Trump’s path to the nomination. He will also need a strong enough showing to springboard him to strong finishes in Pennsylvania (where he was born), Connecticut (he has done well in New England), New Jersey, and California.