Young Republicans say that they often feel silenced in New York City, a reliably Democratic town — except on Staten Island, where they feel more comfortable flying their “Make America Great Again” flags in support of President Trump.
So on Sunday, the last day of early voting, a dozen young Republicans from the other boroughs took precinct lists and fanned across the district to try and tip the congressional race to Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican member of the state Assembly, who hopes to unseat first-term Democrat Max Rose. The district represents Staten Island and south Brooklyn, and is one of the few competitive ones in the region.
Although the majority of Americans between 18 and 29 support Democrats, according to the Pew Research Center, the groups of young Republicans sought to ensure Staten Island stays the reddest borough.
“It’s the next generation of leaders, the next generation of political consultants,” said Gregory Kirsopp, 24, a strategist who helped organize the group. “It definitely is a boost to the candidates.”
Andrew Windsor, 23, a law student from Bath Beach-Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, voted early Sunday morning before he crossed the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to Staten Island, hoping to help Republican outreach in the toss-up congressional race.
In the last three months as a volunteer, Windsor said he’d knocked on close to 2,500 doors to unseat Rose, who also represents his Brooklyn neighborhood. Windsor said he opposed what he considered “socialist” policies by Democrats, especially with Rose voting alongside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The fellow Democrats agreed on 96% of votes in the last Congress, according to a ProPublica analysis.
“I didn’t have to go any other place,” Windsor said. “I didn’t need a different race in Long Island or in Upstate New York, or anywhere else, as proof that we can run a good Republican candidate here in Staten Island and southern Brooklyn.”
Polls show a tight House race. President Obama won the island in a squeaker in 2012, but voters flipped to support Trump four years ago. Trump has endorsed Malliotakis, while millions in contributions have poured in during the election’s waning days.
John Kyriakides, 27, of Whitestone, Queens, felt more comfortable flying his Trump flag on Staten Island than in Manhattan, where supporters of the president have often traveled in caravans. His passenger handing out leaflets Sunday wore a camouflage “Make America Great Again” cap as they left the GOP headquarters.
“This is a completely different world,” Kyriakides said, chuckling.
Campaign messaging has been divisive. Malliotakis has accused Rose of enacting socialist and anti-police policies, claims he has denied. This included an attack ad depicting Rose marching with peaceful Black Lives Matter activists characterized as criminals, which many considered racist.
Rose, a moderate, has lambasted his own party’s liberal wing, calling fellow Democrat Bill de Blasio New York’s worst-ever mayor. Meanwhile, his campaign launched a website “nicolethefraud.com,” a charge Malliotakis has also lobbed at Rose.
But moving away from traditional politicking by both parties, young Republicans aimed to conduct old-school retail politics, even if it’s with socially distanced greetings or Zoom calls due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This may prove vital for Malliotakis to win.
“We have tactics that we know will work,” said April Cadena, 25, president of the Bronx Young Republicans. “We have to incorporate more of this person-to-person interaction.”
Her brother, Sebastian, 16, a self-described socialist, joined them.
“Even if I disagree with the politics or not, I really appreciate that people are still getting out to vote,” he said. “Especially now.”
In pouring rain, a handful of Republican supporters waved signs and screamed at cars passing by Holy Family Roman Catholic Church, an early voting center in Westerleigh. A few Rose supporters quietly stood down the street. At one point, the groups exchanged water and sandwiches.
After chanting “four more years,” in the street just before polls closed, Republican Denise Mason, 59, of West Brighton, went to the sidewalk to check on Hector Reyes, 14, who sported a Malliotakis campaign cap and held a “blue lives matter” flag, signaling opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement. Both weren’t wearing masks.
“You are my future,” she told him, holding back tears. “You are going to be in charge when I get older.”
Reyes said that he wouldn’t have been anywhere else, unless GOP staff said to go to another polling site.
“I want to tell my kids, when I was fourteen, I was out here in the rain with a ‘back the blue’ flag,” he said. “It comes down to how I want to live my life.”
This story is the work of a student at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Other news organizations are welcome to publish this story as long as they adhere to these guidelines.