More than 12 hours after polls closed in Rochester, the outcome of the 2020 presidential race and the battle for control of Congress remained wrapped in uncertainty. Most local contests also lacked clear winners, but Democrats appeared poised to claim several key seats.
In two closely watched state Senate races, Democrats Samra Brouk and Jeremy Cooney held leads that seemed likely to hold up once absentee ballots are counted. And Democrat Jamie Romeo was positioned to earn her first full term as Monroe County clerk.
Meanwhile, the incumbents in two local congressional races—Democrat Joe Morelle and Republican Chris Jacobs—built what appear to be insurmountable leads.
In the state Senate’s 55th District, where Republican Sen. Rich Funke decided against a re-election bid, Brouk had an edge of 52.2 percent to 47.8 percent over Republican Christopher Missick with all election districts reporting. The district covers the east side of the city of Rochester and its suburbs, and part of Ontario County. Brouk’s lead in Monroe County, where a large majority of the district’s voters reside, enabled her to more than offset Missick’s support in Ontario County.
Since 2016, Democratic enrollment in the 55th District has increased more than 9 percent, to 41.3 percent of all registered voters. Enrolled Republicans declined 4.4 percent to 27.8 percent, and the Conservative and Independence parties also lost ground. Brouk also had a substantial edge in campaign funds from contributors and spending on her behalf by the Democrats’ Senate campaign committee.
In the 56th District, where Sen. Joseph Robach won re-election in 2018 over Cooney but decided against running for re-election, Democrats now represent 43.6 percent of registered voters, versus 25.5 percent for enrolled Republicans.
The Democrat this time also enjoyed an enormous campaign finance edge: As of the third week in October, Cooney had $481,945 in contributions, had loaned his campaign more than $52,000 and also benefited from $401,948 in NYS Senate Democratic Campaign Committee expenditures, while Republican David Michael Barry had raised only $32,600.
Yet with all but four election districts reporting, Cooney’s edge over Barry was fewer than 1,000 votes. With more Democrats requesting absentee ballots in Monroe County, however, odds favor Cooney’s 1-point lead (50.5 percent to 49.5 percent) holding up.
In Monroe County, the ongoing enrollment shift to the Democrats has given them a sizable edge over the Republicans—42 percent to 27 percent as of Oct. 1. But with support from Conservative and Independence Party voters, and a good number of those who are unaffiliated, GOP candidates still can be highly competitive in countywide races.
With all districts reporting in the clerk’s race, the gap between Romeo (52.2 percent) and her Republican challenger, county lawmaker Karla Boyce (47.8 percent), was less than 5 points—slightly larger than former county clerk Adam Bello’s 3-point victory over incumbent Republican Cheryl Dinolfo in last year’s county executive race.
In the 25th District, with nearly all election districts reporting, Morelle was ahead of Republican challenger George Mitris, 53.2 percent to 45.2 percent. Libertarian candidate Kevin Wilson had 1.6 percent of the vote.
In the 27th District, which includes a small portion of Monroe County, Jacobs had a large edge over Democratic challenger Nate McMurray, 64.2 percent to 34.5 percent. Duane Whitmer had 1.2 percent of the vote on the Libertarian line. In Monroe County, Jacobs’ advantage over McMurray was nearly as big: 60.4 percent to 39.6 percent
The presidential contest
Monroe County has gone blue in every presidential contest since 1992. This year was no different. With absentee ballots still to be counted, Democrat Joe Biden had 53.2 percent of the votes in the county versus 44.6 percent for Donald Trump. That was slightly narrower than Biden’s statewide edge of 55.5 percent to 43.1 percent.
Four years ago, Democrat Hillary Clinton defeated Trump in Monroe County, 53.7 percent to 38.9 percent. Third-party candidates won more votes in that election.
The absentee ballot factor
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic this year, nearly 20 percent of some 13.6 million total registered voters statewide requested absentee ballots, according to the state Board of Elections. In Monroe County, the percentage was even higher: 26.1 percent, or nearly 136,500 ballots.
Until all of those votes are counted, certainty will be elusive in some of the closer races.
Paul Ericson is Rochester Beacon executive editor.