By MICHAEL GORMLEY | AP
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- Two veteran New York Republican senators are waiting out a tense absentee ballot count to see if their landmark votes a year ago to legalize gay marriage cost them their political careers.
The count of thousands of absentee ballots from Thursday's GOP primary will take days.
Among the four Republican senators who cast the deciding votes to legalize gay marriage in June 2011, two -- Sen. Roy McDonald and Sen. Stephen Saland -- are now fighting for their political lives; one -- Sen. James Alesi -- retired this year in the face of opposition from his vote; and a fourth, Sen. Mark Grisanti of Buffalo, won his primary.
The Republicans said they agonized over their vote a year ago and ultimately cast votes of personal conviction, immediately angering their base. In response, a frustrated McDonald famously shouted publicly that if voting his conscience isn't the right thing to do, critics can "take this job and shove it."
According to unofficial results compiled by The Associated Press, Saland of Poughkeepsie, who cast the deciding vote for gay marriage, is barely leading Neil DiCarlo in Saland's first GOP challenge in his 32 years in public office. McDonald, whose district is based in Saratoga County, is slightly ahead of Kathleen Marchione, the Saratoga County clerk.
"It shows when it comes to Republicans, that principles matter," said New York state Conservative Party Chairman Michael Long. The influential and longest-serving political leader in New York had warned Republican senators before the June 2011 vote that he would oppose anyone who voted for gay marriage.
"Regardless of how it turns out, the standing up for principle was loud and clear," he said Friday in an interview.
Political analyst Bruce Gyory said the veteran senators, however, may have an advantage in the absentee vote count. Their political organizations are far more experienced in winning the count of voters who mailed in ballots because they were out of town on primary day.
"So it's way too early to tell," said Gyory, a political consultant who studies voter trends and teaches at the state University at Albany. "I wouldn't rule McDonald out and certainly not Saland."
He also said other issues were at play in the local races. He noted Saland's contest in the Hudson Valley probably had a larger-than-usual turnout of conservatives because of a local Assembly race that featured a tea party candidate.
Long agreed the vote against McDonald and Saland went deeper than same-sex marriage. He noted the campaigns against them also criticized the Republicans for supporting Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo's tax increase in December, after promising in the 2010 campaign and throughout 2011 that they would oppose any tax increases.
The millionaire's tax raised $2 billion, while providing a $200 to $400 tax break for many middle-class families. Cuomo and legislators who supported the tax increase have described it as a middle-class tax break, which provides greater fairness in tax brackets.
"It certainly goes beyond the simple question of same-sex marriage," said Steven Greenberg of the Siena College poll. "It goes to how the campaigns were run and executed."
Sen. Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat who is running the Democratic Senate campaigns, said the results show that Republicans need to "kowtow to conservatives" to survive a GOP primary.
"The Republicans are now following the national dynamic, as divided as ever, with moderates being pushed out," Gianaris said.
But Greenberg and Gyory said the issue won't likely hurt Saland and McDonald, if they survive the absentee ballot count.
None of the Republicans had taken up the offer by Cuomo, a highly popular governor even with Republicans, for support in the GOP primary campaign. Cuomo has guaranteed he'd support those Republicans who voted for his gay marriage measure. Statewide, Democrats have a nearly 2:1 enrollment advantage.
"They will probably be cruising to landslide victories in the general election," Gyory said.
A final count of absentee ballots can't begin until Sept. 20 at the earliest, because of a time period required to make sure all absentee ballots are received.