- Associated Press - Saturday, October 11, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - New York’s Senate Democrats have regrouped from the squabbling and disarray that left them out of power four years ago.

Now the key political issue in this very blue state is whether it’s enough of a comeback to have Democrats running everything in Albany next year. They already have the Assembly and governor’s office and are expected to easily keep both.

That’s a scenario Republicans are using in their effort to alarm voters on Long Island and upstate and keep their grip on the Senate.

The stakes are big: Determining what bills - such as raising the minimum wage to $10.10 hourly and strengthening abortion rights - actually reach the Senate floor in the next two years.

“We likened it to a baseball team in a rebuilding phase,” said Sen. Michael Gianaris, an attorney from Queens who took over the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee after 2010. Over the next two years, they wiped out $3.1 million in debt, picked up four seats and chose Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins as their new conference leader.

Among former Senate Democratic leaders, ex-Sen. Pedro Espada went to prison. Sens. Malcolm Smith and John Sampson have been indicted. Sen. Jeff Klein formed the Independent Democratic Conference and joined Republicans in a majority coalition, taking four other Democrats with him.

Klein promised this summer to switch and align next year with the mainstream Democrats, which appeared to position them to take over.

Now the GOP is trying to retake the chamber on its own. Polling and campaign finance reports this past week suggest the advantage is suddenly theirs.

Siena College pollster Steve Greenberg said it’s too soon and too close to call just less than a month before the election. “Campaigns matter. They educate voters. They move voters,” he said.

It’s a simple math, requiring 32 out of 63 senators. But the formula is complicated by the odd shapes of senate districts, shifting loyalties, personal ambitions and money for persuasive campaign ads. The backdrop includes nearly 5.9 million registered Democratic voters, mainly concentrated downstate, and 2.8 million Republicans.

On one side is the Democrats’ minimum wage push, abortion rights, public financing of political campaigns and college tuition assistance for students in the U.S. illegally.

On the other is the Republican push for fewer government mandates, lower spending and taxes, protecting school aid and the ability to counterbalance Democrats.

“I feel very confident we will take back the full majority in the Senate in this election,” said Sen. Cathy Young, who chairs the Senate Republican Campaign Committee.

One issue they have been pushing is what they see as an attempt by Democratic New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and the liberal Working Families Party to control upstate Senate seats, Young said. “You need to have balance in the state.”

Republicans have kept majority control of the chamber most of the past half-century - and they have repeatedly proven wily.

Their plan this time includes targeting certain first-term Democrats they consider vulnerable. The most recent campaign finance records show the Senate Republican Campaign Committee spending $1.4 million the past several weeks mainly on a handful of candidates meant to tip the balance: Susan Serino and Terrence Murphy in the Hudson Valley, Richard Funke in the Rochester area, George Amedore in the greater Albany area and incumbent Sen. Jack Martins on Long Island.

They still had nearly $2.9 million to spend from the campaign account last week.

The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee spent about $500,000 in the same period, including almost $300,000 for Adam Haber, who is challenging Martins. The committee had an additional $1.4 million on hand last week. One of its candidates on Long Island, David Denenberg, dropped out two weeks ago after he was sued by his former law firm.

There are other factors. Sen. Tom Libous, deputy leader of the Senate Republicans, is headed for trial next year, accused of lying to the FBI. He denies the charge and has also been battling cancer. Sampson has denied charges he embezzled escrow funds and also faces trial next year. Felony convictions mean Senate expulsion.

Two Republican senators, William Larkin and Hugh Farley, are in their 80s. And Brooklyn Democrat Simcha Felder has been caucusing with the Republicans.

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