Republicans have lost their sole congressional seat in New York City, with incumbent Rep. Daniel Donovan falling to Max Rose, a 31-year-old military veteran and health care executive who waged what seemed an improbable campaign in New York state’s 11th Congressional District, which includes all of Staten Island and a slice of Brooklyn.
Staten Island has long been the only Republican redoubt in New York City, and it is the only one of the city’s five boroughs that went for Donald Trump in 2016.
The 11th was represented until three years ago by Michael Grimm, a blustery former FBI agent who won the seat in 2010 by running on the tea party line. But Grimm went to prison in 2015 on tax-related charges, and the seat subsequently went to Dan Donovan, Staten Island’s mild-mannered attorney general.
Donovan had attracted criticism for failing to more aggressively pursue the police officer responsible for the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man. But that did not seem to count against him on Staten Island, where many police officers live and a conservative sensibility prevails.
Earlier this year, Donovan faced an unexpected challenge from Grimm, who had been released from prison in 2016 and was seeking a political comeback as a Trump-style Republican. Grimm received the endorsement of Steve Bannon, the president’s former chief political strategist, for espousing a strongly anti-immigrant line. He accused Donovan of being insufficiently loyal to Trump, in particular because Donovan had voted against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
As the drama played out on the Republican side, Rose — a Brooklyn native — lingered in the background and handily won the Democratic primary. A victory by Grimm would have made things easier for Rose, as Grimm lacked support outside the island’s conservative South Shore and was spurned by national Republicans. But Donovan, endorsed by Trump, won the Republican primary, which set up Rose to run against a relatively moderate, relatively popular establishment figure.
Rose kept on, though, tailoring his pitch to Republicans who could be persuaded to vote for a practical Democrat. “Rose says he would not necessarily vote to impeach Trump if he’s elected; he says he first needs to see the results of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation,” Politico recently noted of Rose’s carefully calibrated positions. “He says he wouldn’t support Nancy Pelosi for speaker if the Democrats retake the House. He doesn’t support ‘abolishing ICE.’ He’s quick to paint Democratic politicians as part of the problem he says he’s running to solve.”
The pitch worked, and Rose won by five points. New York City is now represented exclusively by Democrats. And in Rose, they have a young congressman who found a way to victory not by turning out the base but by appealing to the middle.
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