Since its calamitous performance in November’s midterms, the New York Democratic Party has been part laughingstock, part pariah. The party somehow ceded four House of Representatives seats to Republicans, accounting for nearly the entirety of the Republican majority in the chamber. They lost a race to George Santos. In the aftermath, 1,000 state Democrats signed a letter calling on New York Democratic Party chair Jay Jacobs to resign. He has refused.
Jacobs has defiantly maintained that his state operation is highly functional, that the criticism toward him is unfair and misinformed, and that he did nothing wrong despite the results. That insistence has done little to help his reputation, close to home or farther away.
Nor has it convinced key national Democratic groups, who are now going to exceptional lengths to work around the state party’s inadequacies. Already, House Majority PAC, the most important super PAC associated with House Democrats, has committed $45 million just to races in New York state for the 2024 cycle.
Now, the D.C.-based PAC has announced that it’s establishing and funding its own “war room” just for the state of New York. The national group will erect an entire electoral operation, hiring its own staffers, stationed in the Empire State to handle opposition research, rapid response, messaging, and more.
All of those are things that, in every other blue state, would be entrusted to the state parties and their respective House campaigns. But after the New York Dems’ 2022 breakdown, and their subsequent refusal to submit to any leadership or structural changes, the PAC does not have to gamble the fate of the 2024 House majority on some newfound competence. To national Democratic groups, having their own in-state shadow operations is a better bet.
Spending that level of money and resources in a presidential election cycle in a state that is not—at all—a battleground state is unprecedented, to put it mildly. Registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans in New York more than 2-to-1. The state’s electoral votes are not up for grabs.
“We’re building an operation that doesn’t let anything slide,” said C.J. Warnke, House Majority PAC’s communications director. The New York war room will start by targeting cross-pressured House Republicans who represent districts Joe Biden won in 2020, highlighting their votes on unpopular Republican positions like restricting abortion access and cutting funding for social services like Medicare, Social Security, and more.
Implicit in this investment is the acknowledgement that the New York Democratic Party can’t be trusted to fulfill these basic functions. And Democrats have said since Election Day, rightly, that any path back to majority control of the House runs through flipping at least four and probably five seats across Long Island and upstate New York.
New York is not the only state with multiple congressional districts that Democrats would like to flip next November, nor is it the only state where Democrats underperformed national trends this past fall. California, for one, qualifies as both. But New York is the only place that the national party has put basic state party functions into receivership.
“It’s the most active we’ve been in a nonelection year by far, even in little things,” added Warnke. The $45 million pledge comes after the already-substantial $13 million the group spent to aid the state’s congressional Democrats in 2022.
At times in the past, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the campaign arm of House Democrats, has sent staffers to embed in areas of the country with high electoral consequence—mostly swing states with a high density of competitive House districts. But committing this amount of money, this level of infrastructure, this early, has never been done by Dems.
“The role of the state party is to organize for elections, is to coordinate between campaigns, is to maintain housekeeping functions […] I believe we’ve done that fairly vigorously,” Jacobs, the New York State Democratic chair, said in a recent interview with WNYC, before going on to blame progressives for the losses of his favored, moderate candidates. Clearly, national Democrats do not agree.
D.C.’s parachute mission is also notable because of the House Democrats’ recent leadership changes. Since its creation more than a decade ago, House Majority PAC has been closely affiliated with the top-ranking House Democrat, which, until last November, was Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi passed the torch to new caucus leader Hakeem Jeffries, who is himself a representative from New York and knows the state party and its failings intimately.
In January, Jeffries backed former Pelosi adviser Mike Smith as the House Majority PAC’s president, signaling his intention to work with the Pelosi-built electoral apparatus. The fact that one of House Majority PAC’s first acts under Jeffries’ reign will be the construction of a shadow organization to work around his own state party’s glaring weaknesses gives you a pretty strong sense that Jeffries, too, is not convinced by Jacobs’ leadership.
When the HMP war room gets up and running, there will be multiple full-time staffers focused on Long Island, the Hudson Valley, and upstate New York, where Jacobs has insisted Democratic problems were overstated. As proof of this, he told WNYC host Brian Lehrer that losing Democrats Sean Patrick Maloney, of the Hudson Valley, and Robert Zimmerman of what is now George Santos’ district on Long Island, actually got more votes than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. (Never mind that AOC cruised to reelection, winning more than 70 percent of the vote.)
While Jacobs has refused a reckoning, ex–New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who benefited greatly from the state party apparatus crumbling while he was in office, has recently come off the sidelines and returned to public view.
Always the team player, Cuomo is using his considerable political capital and his trove of still unspent campaign funds to rebuild the maligned party infrastructure. Just kidding! Instead, he’s throwing his weight behind a new organization called Progressives for Israel, at a time when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government has enacted a sweep of antidemocratic judicial reforms that even has the international business community fleeing the country. “Do you stand with Israel or do you stand against Israel, because silence is not an option,” Cuomo said in a statement. The former governor is rumored to be considering a Senate campaign.
The Democratic leadership of New York has often preferred to fight its own party’s actual progressives rather than battling Republicans, an approach that has only helped the GOP make gains. This strategy’s failure is not merely hurting Democrats at the national level; it’s costing them handsomely. With a sure-to-be expensive presidential race next year, it’s worth wondering how much longer these leaders will be willing to pay their way around New York’s failings, before larger, more structural changes to the state party become inevitable.