Town Councilwoman Anna Kaplan’s victory over Republican state Sen. Elaine Phillips in state Senate District 7 could be attributed to a strong ground game campaign, Democratic operatives and volunteers said, with a “blue wave” factor and independent expenditures also likely playing roles.
Kaplan defeated Phillips 58,273 to 48,342 votes, a margin of 53.68 to 44.53 percent, in a Democratic-leaning district that contains Elmont, Hicksville and entirety of North Hempstead.
Democrats outnumber Republicans 94,507 to 67,334 in the district of 235,258 voters, according to enrollment statistics, while unaffiliated voters make up 61,660.
Adam Haber, a Democratic businessman from Roslyn, had lost 65,432 to 61,007 votes in 2016.
Tess McRae, Kaplan’s campaign manager, said the campaign received “tremendous support” from volunteers, labor unions and activist groups knocking on doors and making phone calls. They “went everywhere,” McCrae said, and “didn’t avoid any areas in particular.”
“I think that tremendous support from volunteers we had from the very beginning was very motivating for myself, for Anna,” McCrae said on Friday. “It was just great seeing all those people who wanted to work toward getting a majority in the state Senate and getting Anna elected.”
Kaplan also got considerable financial support from independent groups, according to financial disclosures filed with the state Board of Elections, on top of more than $200,000 in backing from state Democratic committees in October.
Union groups like SEIU Local 32 BJ, Construction & General Building Laborers Local 79, the Communications Workers of America and the New York State Union of Teachers spent at least $1.35 million opposing Phillips and supporting Kaplan.
Fighting for our Future, the political action fund of NYSUT, was Kaplan’s biggest supporter, spending just over $1 million primarily in television and online advertising.
Carl Korn, a spokesman for NYSUT, said the group’s support for Kaplan could be traced back to legislation that would overhaul a “broken system” of testing and evaluations. Most legislators supported it, Korn said, but then Republicans “chose to tack on 100 new charter schools.”
“The Long Island senators, Republican senators, voted for that bill after promising us that they would be standing with teachers,” Korn said.
Later, Korn said, state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan tried to “force a deal” with NYSUT – and called them “a force of evil.”
“This enraged our members,” Korn said. “To be called a ‘force of evil’ by Flanagan enraged our members and energized them to work even harder for champions of public education.”
In the case of the Kaplan campaign, Korn said this translated to members voluntarily working phone banks, knocking on doors and handing out literature. Altogether, he said, members had made more than 25,000 calls as of last week.
Asked about the amount of money the union put in, Korn said the political action fund is made of voluntary contributions from more than 150,000 of its members and that it’s an “unfortunate reality of politics today” that “it takes money to run a successful campaign.”
But it was the ground game that mattered most, he said.
“Money matters,” Korn said, “but nothing is more important than a ground game and our ground game carried the day.”
Steve Markowitz, the vice chair of the Nassau County Democrats and president of the Great Neck Democratic Club, said it appeared Kaplan’s campaign focused on more blue-leaning areas like the southern half of Great Neck, Westbury, Roslyn “to a degree” and Elmont.
“…They ran a smart campaign focusing on where they were strongest,” Markowitz said, “and I think the election was really about Elaine’s bad votes…”
Kaplan focused on bills like the Reproductive Health Act and Child Victims Act, which have not come to a vote in the state Senate under Republican leadership, as well as gun control legislation and Phillips’ purported support for charter schools.
“You can’t say that this is a balance and that you need one house to be Republican,” Kaplan said in a previous interview when asked about possible concerns over one-party control. “If you can’t get things done, you need to make a change.”
The Reproductive Health Act would take abortion out of the criminal code, allow certified nurse practitioners and physician assistants to administer non-surgical procedures, and allow women to get an abortion after 24 weeks if their health is endangered or the fetus is considered not viable.
Phillips had raised concerns, saying a doctor should always be involved.
The Child Victims Act, meanwhile, would extend the civil statute of limitations to age 50 for sexual assault victims who were children, up from 23 years, and would extend the criminal statute of limitations to age 28.
Phillips had supported the Child Victims Fund, which would eliminate the criminal statute of limitations and create a $300 million fund for victims from asset forfeitures, but did not support the Child Victims Act.
Kaplan had also honed in on Phillips voting against gun control legislation when Democrats tried attaching it as a “hostile amendment” to an unrelated bill.
“I think at the end of the day it’s not lawn signs or mailers that get votes,” McRae said. “It’s connecting with voters and making sure they know who their candidate is.”
Asked about what influence she believed independent expenditures had, McRae said she couldn’t speak to it, but referenced other races where Democrats took over Republican seats.
“It’s not really about the money pumped into the race,” McRae said. “We had a ton of candidates who won across Long Island who had incredibly small budgets and almost no expenditures done on their behalf.”
In addition to Kaplan’s victory over Phillips, James Gaughran unseated Carl Marcellino in the 5th Senate District, Kevin Thomas defeated Kemp Hannon in the 6th Senate District, and Monica Martinez picked up a seat once held by Thomas Croci in the 3rd Senate District.
Markowitz said Kaplan also might have benefitted from stronger than usual turnout driven by national politics.
“I was surprised but delighted by the incredible turnout,” Markowitz said. “I think it’s primarily generated by concerns about the president, and although I’m not sure I’d call it a blue wave, it was sure one heck of a ripple.”