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Garner prosecutor wins special election to replace Grimm

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Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan (R) easily defeated Democratic City Councilman Vincent Gentile in the special election to replace disgraced former Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) on Tuesday night.
 
The Associated Press called the election for Donovan at about 9:20 p.m., just 20 minutes after polls closed. Donovan was leading 60 to 38 percent with 93 percent of precincts reporting.
 
There were no public polls leading up to election night, but Donovan’s lead was believed to be big enough that Republicans in the state were mostly worried about GOP voters becoming complacent and staying home for the rare springtime election.
 
Donovan will be up for reelection again in just 19 months and could face a stiffer challenge in 2016. The 11th District leans conservative in non-presidential years but is generally competitive when the White House is in play. 
 
{mosads}In addition, Democrats will likely have Hillary Clinton, a former New York senator, at the top of the ticket next year, helping to drive turnout.
 
Rep. Ben Ray Luján (N.M.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said after the election he was confident Democrats can take the seat in 2016.
 
“NY-11 will be highly competitive in 2016 and the DCCC will be actively engaged in taking back this seat,” he said in a statement.
 
“The general election will be a much more positive climate for Democrats up and down the ticket in New York, particularly if Hillary Clinton leads the charge, and we are confident that Dan Donovan will simply be a seat warmer.”
 
Rep. Greg Walden (Ore.), the National Republican Congressional Committee chairman, congratulated Donovan after the results came in.
 
“I look forward to having Dan become a part of our historic Republican majority and I am excited to see his many accomplishments in Congress as we work together to move our country forward,” Walden said in a statement.
 
Donovan was the prosecutor who led the investigation into the death of Eric Garner, the unarmed black man who died last summer when a Staten Island police officer put him in a chokehold after confronting him for allegedly selling loose cigarettes.
 
In December, a grand jury decided not to indict the police officer, and Donovan has faced criticism from some quarters over that outcome. 
 
Protesters hit the streets in New York City and across the country in the wake of the grand jury decision, and the case remains a touchstone for those seeking reforms after a string of allegations of police brutality across the nation.
 
But the Garner case played almost no role in the special election. 
 
Staten Island is home to many cops, firemen and other public servants, and is one of the most pro-police districts in the country. Had Gentile sought to score political points off the controversy, it would likely have backfired and left him in an even bigger hole, political analysts in the state say.
 
Donovan will replace Grimm, who resigned just before the new Congress began in January. Grimm has pleaded guilty to one count of tax evasion and faced a 20-count indictment for other alleged crimes, ranging from perjury to obstruction.
 
Grimm coasted to reelection in 2014, winning by double-digits, despite the lingering indictments.
 
Donovan’s win bucks historical precedent. 
 
In previous New York special elections — to replace former Reps. Anthony Weiner (D), Chris Lee (R) and Eric Massa (D), all of whom were involved in sex scandals of some sort — voters elected a candidate from the other party to replace the disgraced congressman. 
 
But the outcome of the race to replace Grimm was never really in question.
 
Donovan rallied the support of establishment Republicans in the Empire State at an early stage. Former New York City Mayors Michael Bloomberg (I) and Rudy Giuliani (R) and former Gov. George Pataki (R) helped him fundraise and campaign.
 
Democrats, meanwhile, struggled to find a candidate before finally settling on Gentile. 
 
Gentile started off behind the eight ball. He hails from Brooklyn, which accounts for only a third of the 11th District. Donovan, meanwhile, is from the much larger slice of the district in Staten Island, and benefitted from much broader name recognition.
 
Still, Gentile acquitted himself well, earning positive reviews as a smart campaigner, formidable fundraiser and strong debater in what was viewed as a doomed effort for any Democrat that might enter the race.
 
Donovan outraised Gentile by a 3-to-1 margin, and national Democrats didn’t spend on the race.
 
There were some rocky moments in the campaign for Donovan — many political observers believe Gentile bested him in the two televised debates, although there were no moments powerful enough to change the tide.
 
In the late stages of the campaign, Gentile attacked Donovan for skipping debates, accusing him of being “gutless” and hiding from voters. The attacks failed to have much of an impact in the low-turnout special election, however.
 
Democrats will likely have an easier time landing a top-tier candidate in 2016, a presidential year with a more liberal electorate. 
 
Former Rep. Michael McMahon (N.Y.), who served one term beginning in 2009 and was the last Democrat to hold the seat, is already being mentioned as a potential 2016 candidate even though he passed on the special election.
 
— Updated at 10:33 p.m.
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