The comeback kids: What brought Maffei, Stirpe back to office?

Dan Maffei celebrates on Election Night after learning he is ahead in the polls.

Dan Maffei celebrates on Election Night after learning he is ahead in the polls. Photo by Ned Campbell.

— On Election Day, voters in Central New York resoundingly rejected national Republican candidates, re-electing President Barack Obama by a vote of 59 percent to Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s 38 percent, choosing Democrat Dan Maffei over conservative opponent Ann Marie Buerkle for Congress and, at a more local level, selecting more liberal Al Stirpe instead of Don Miller.

While the presidential vote isn’t a big surprise — Obama took Onondaga County by a similar margin in the 2008 election — both Maffei and Stirpe lost those seats in the 2010 elections to Buerkle and Miller, respectively. So what made voters change their minds? What made these two candidates, as one politician at the Democrats’ Election Night celebration put it, “Central New York’s Comeback Kids”?

According to the candidates themselves, they simply had the better message.

“You can’t just make stuff up and expect people to believe it,” Stirpe said in his victory speech to supporters on Election Night. “We just talked about what we wanted to do, what we’ve done in the past and forget about everything else, and I think people appreciated that.”

Stirpe also pointed to the negative ads Miller’s campaign ran against him in this campaign and in 2010. He said he, instead, ran a clean campaign.

“The other side might learn a lesson from this and stop all the down-and-dirty stuff they try each and every campaign,” Stirpe said.

For his part, Maffei also pointed to his campaign message.

“I said throughout this campaign that this campaign was about the working people of this country,” he said. “That resonated with people.”

But political experts say there’s more to it than the strength of Central New York’s Democratic candidates. They were helped by the tide of votes for Obama, certainly, according to Grant Reeher, professor of political science and director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School. But beyond that, the voters of this region simply didn’t like the conservatism of their opponents.

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