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All eyes on New Yorks congressional races as key House seats at play

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(WASHINGTON) — As Election Day nears, battleground states like Florida, Arizona and Michigan are taking the spotlight in the presidential race. Political experts and analysts, however, say a traditionally blue state could disrupt the balance of power in Congress.

Several House seats in New York state are up for grabs this election with Democrats and Republicans eyeing to flip seats in Long Island, Westchester County and upstate, particularly in districts that went red during the 2022 midterms, according to experts.

During those midterms, Democrats lost four New York House seats, leading Republicans to seize a small majority and split Congress.

“This state is often written off for the presidential elections, but the fact that we lost those four seats … we cannot ignore that there are several conservatives in this state and there are several Democrats who will vote Republican,” Christina Greer, an associate professor of history at Fordham University, told ABC News.

Democrats in New York currently hold 16 congressional seats; Republicans hold 10. Democrats are rethinking their strategies and in some cases making major policy changes to attract more centrist voters in key districts, Greer said.

Midterm wakeup call

The Republican gains in New York in 2022 were a major wakeup call for Democrats and political observers alike, according to Mona Kleinberg, an assistant professor at Queens College.

Although New York Gov. Kathy Hochul won the gubernatorial election with 53% of the total vote, she saw strong opposition from Republican Lee Zeldin, who campaigned hard on crime and public safety concerns.

“You have to remember, the margin for victory for Biden over Trump was way greater than the margin of victory for Hochul over Zeldin,” Kleinberg said.

She said Republican hopefuls also focused their efforts on local issues rather than some of the national topics that were dominating the headlines, such as abortion. That decision led to the GOP wins in Long Island and upstate New York.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney’s narrow loss to Mike Lawler in 2022 was a major upset for the party, for example.

“Democrats have become a lot less comfortable. This is one of the lessons of 2022,” Kleinberg said.

Sally Friedman, an associate professor of political science at the University of Albany, told ABC News that Democrats and Republicans across the country are keeping a close eye on what happens in New York.

“I think the party balance in Congress is going to be close,” she said.

A shift to the center for both parties

Experts said that elected officials in the state have already been adapting their policies and rhetoric to regain seats this fall.

Friedman noted that some Democrats have scaled back their push for more progressive policies, including bail reform and plans to bring more affordable housing upstate.

She also noted that some Republican hopefuls have strayed away from the far-right rhetoric and views expressed by former President Donald Trump.

“In New York, Republicans and Democrats are campaigning on the hyperlocal issues and focusing on those topics that matter most in their districts,” she said.

The shift appeared to have worked for Democrats who flipped a key seat this winter.

When Democrat Tom Suozzi won the special election for New York’s 3rd congressional district, which was up for grabs after embattled Republican freshman Rep. George Santos was expelled from the House last year, Democrats cited his “offense” on immigration issues as the major factor.

Suburban and rural areas of the state are typically filled with more centrist and independent voters, so zeroing in on local issues can be a winning strategy, Friedman said. There are risks, however, to this strategy, she added.

“It’s interesting because in the primaries, you have to play to your base but at the same time you want to ensure that you’ll win come November,” Friedman said.

Congestion pricing about-face raises concerns

Two weeks ago, Gov. Hochul stunned New Yorkers after she announced that New York City’s congestion pricing program, which would have charged motorists $15 for entering parts of Manhattan during peak hours, was put on hold.

The added revenue was supposed to pay for New York City mass transit projects.

Hochul said she and other leaders had received many concerns from drivers who felt the plan was financially excessive.

Critics, including progressive Democrats in the state, however, called out Hochul for the 11th-hour move and accused her of sacrificing a long-approved measure to attract voters who lived outside of the city.

Kleinberg argued the back and forth on congestion pricing has long predated Hochul’s tenure. Friedman noted that the fallout is indicative of the division going on in the state between progressives and more moderate Democrats.

“It’s similar to what’s been going on in Washington,” she explained.

All eyes on primaries and beyond

That divide is also playing out in key House primaries in the state.

Incumbent Democrat Rep. Jamaal Bowman, who represents the highly contested 16th congressional district that includes Yonkers, is facing a tight race against Democrat George Latimer, who is seen as more moderate.

Bowman has the support of progressives including Sen. Bernie Sanders while Latimer picked up key endorsements from established Democrats including former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.

“With Trump on the ballot, we need strong, principled Democrats in Congress more than ever,” Clinton posted on X.

Depending on how tight the general congressional races are nationally, there may be a shift in the tone for the candidates, Friedman argued.

“Just like the nationalization of campaigns, generally we will see more national attention on these races,” she said. “Think about Georgia in 2020 and 2022. Everyone was focused on the runoffs because of what was at stake. “

Added Kleinberg: “We’re heading into a presidential election and that always shifts who turns out to vote.”

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