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Updated Aug 28, 2023, 11:08am EDT
politics

Inside Hakeem Jeffries’ new Democratic machine

REUTERS/Julia Nikhinson/File Photo
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The News

Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries has installed two loyalists at the flailing New York State Democratic Party — in the hopes that his home state can carry him to the Speakership.

Jeffries’ former campaign manager, Lizzy Weiss, will head the battleground effort, and Jeffries’ longtime ally, André Richardson, is a senior advisor at a new arm of the state party. Jeffries, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, and Gov. Kathy Hochul first announced the new initiative to donors they hope will underwrite the coordinated campaign in June over a Zoom call.

The new effort is a muscle flex by one of the most powerful Democrats in the country to refocus his home state’s Democratic party on 2024 House races. They are, for now, retaining staffers close to Hochul, including New York Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs, whose performance in the midterms inspired a campaign calling for his removal, and Executive Director Alex Wang.

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Weiss and Richardson have met with and interviewed congressional candidates, and are present at some of the most sensitive meetings with Democratic leaders and members of the delegation.

The campaign will be adding additional organizers between now and the 2023 elections, which, I’m told, should yield “younger, more dynamic candidates that are going to hustle,” a person familiar with the strategy told Semafor.

The initiative is already making investments in key county and municipal seats. There’s also a dedicated push to organize on college campuses throughout Long Island, Central New York, Southern Tier, and in the Hudson Valley — all areas that overlap with competitive House seats in 2024, three of which Republicans flipped during the 2022 midterms.

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The separate battleground effort to target Republican incumbents in five key congressional races, a number close to the slim majority now held by House Republicans, includes Reps. George Santos, Anthony D’Esposito, Mike Lawler, Marc Molinaro, and Brandon Williams.

“In 2024, we believe that investing resources in coordinated get-out-the-vote efforts in New York State presents a unique opportunity to impact the national political landscape,” said Wang. “The Governor has already raised over $1.5M to support party-building efforts this year.”

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Kadia’s view

The shakeup is the first clear sign that Jeffries is taking the woes in his home state dead seriously — and sees New York as a path to the speakership. His theory of the case: The youth vote could provide the margins.

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Democrats have an opportunity to motivate a new crop of voters driven by the Dobbs decision. Polling from Voters of Tomorrow and The Generation Lab show abortion as the second most influential issue motivating 18- to 29-year-old voters after jobs and the economy.

“During the midterms in New York, I really felt like no one understood the potential of young voters,” Jack Lobel, a spokesperson for Voters of Tomorrow, an organization centered around mobilizing the youth vote, which has spoken to people involved in the coordinated campaign, told Semafor. “No one understood that we would be the difference between a win and a loss.”

Echoing national talking points on abortion wasn’t as successful for New York Democratic candidates. Motivating youth voters could help, but it’s unclear how much without a state-specific plan that addresses public safety and the influx of migrant people in the state who are now being relocated to the suburbs represented by newly-elected Republicans.

Reversing course would mean a carefully crafted plan carried out by trusted allies, in particular, people who understand the terrain of New York’s electorate. Some New Yorkers involved quietly griped about national committees hiring non-New Yorkers to oversee the area’s political campaigns.

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Room for Disagreement

Some people Semafor spoke to expressed skepticism about making such an aggressive turnaround ahead of the 2024 elections. “It’s still unclear to me what the ‘new’ plan is — all those losses in the last cycle happened under Jay/Hochul’s watch, and if Hakeem Jeffries is not significantly elbowing them out of the equation, we’re getting the same result,” one Democratic lawmaker told Semafor. Many party insiders are betting that state courts will let them redraw congressional districts, again, to their benefit.

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Notable

  • In contrast, Republicans are gearing up to hold onto their 2022 gains. The number 3 Republican, House Chair Elise Stefanik, also hails from New York and is planning a $100 million campaign push to ensure her GOP colleagues in New York hold on to their seats.
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