The three candidates for the 43rd Senate District are set, even if the Republican nominee won’t be known for at least another week.
Heading into the weekend, Saratoga County Clerk Kathy Marchione held a slim margin over state Sen. Roy McDonald, R-Saratoga, in the Republican primary for the district, which includes Columbia, Washington, Rensselaer and Saratoga counties. An unofficial total compiled by the local boards of elections had Marchione with 6,815 votes and McDonald with 6,693, leaving almost 1,500 absentee ballots as the eventual decider of this razor-thin race.
So far, 977 absentee ballots have been received by the local boards of elections, with a few more expected to trickle in over the coming days.
What was decided Thursday night, though, was the Conservative nomination, won easily by Marchione. She faced only token opposition from a candidate who didn’t campaign.
This result, and McDonald’s nomination by the Independence Party, ensures that both candidates will be on the ballot in November. The third candidate is Democrat Robin Andrews, a town supervisor in Columbia County.
There had been some question as to whether McDonald and Marchione would actively campaign in the fall if they were only third-party candidates, but both stressed Friday that they’re committed to winning in November, no matter what.
Marchione spokesman Ken Girardin said, “We’re focused on the general election.”
McDonald, who had been coy about this issue before the election, isn’t mincing his words now.
“I’m in this to stay,” he said.
He added that even if he does win the Republican nomination, it has never been his practice to cater just to Republicans in his district.
“I didn’t run to be the senator of the Republicans, the Democrats or the independents,” McDonald said. “I’m going to be the senator of the entire district.”
There has been some concern that an active third-party candidate could hurt the Republicans’ chances of holding onto the seat, which they’re otherwise heavily favored to win because of a decided voter enrollment advantage.
Saratoga County Republican Committee Chairman Jasper Nolan, who supports McDonald, said he wouldn’t ask either candidate to not actively campaign solely as third-party candidates, but felt they should consider the possibility that it could open the door to a Democratic upset.
Marchione’s campaign, which has filed an impound order for all the votes, was confident they wouldn’t shed their lead when all the absentee ballots are counted. McDonald said he had no idea how the votes would break.
The process of counting absentee ballots is scheduled to start Thursday. As of early Friday afternoon, 238 of 410 absentee ballots in Columbia County were returned, as were 403 of 560 in Saratoga County, 316 of 478 in Rensselaer County and 20 of 34 in Washington County.
Heading into the general election, both campaigns are promising a different tone than the primary campaign. Girardin said Marchione won’t change as a candidate, but her emphasis will shift.
“In the primary, her chief concern was to draw a context between herself and the incumbent. [Now], Kathy will be more focused on sharing her views on how to lower property taxes and put New York back to work.”
This is welcome news to McDonald, who promised to focus on his record of job creation, keeping taxes low and working for the disabled community. He said his efforts will revolve around differentiating himself as a candidate from Marchione and Andrews.
Regardless of how the recount ends, the tight race could have implications in states that are currently trying to pass marriage equality bills, according to Bob Bellafiore, a former spokesman for then-Gov. George Pataki.
“There were national eyes on this race, along with the primary races for the [other two] senate Republicans who voted for the same-sex marriage bill,” he said. “This will have a chilling impact on same-sex marriage efforts in other states where they need Republican votes.”
That is the hope of the National Organization for Marriage, which trumpeted the primary results, arguing that a message in opposition of marriage equality was sent by the voters.
State Sen. Mark Grisanti, R-Buffalo, who voted for marriage equality, survived a contentious primary, while Sen. Stephen Saland, R-Poughkeepsie, who helped draft the marriage equality legislation, will likely see his primary election also decided by absentee ballots.
The Empire State Pride Agenda had a starkly different interpretation of primary night, which was described as a clear endorsement of full equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community. The group has yet to endorse a candidate in the 43rd District and it’s possible they put off endorsing McDonald until after Thursday, so as not to alienate more conservative primary voters.
ESPA is promising to now redouble its efforts on behalf of pro-LGBT candidates heading into the general election.