NEW YORK CITY — As voters begin to head to the polls Tuesday, the city’s hotly contested Congressional elections remain neck and neck.
Thanks to a rare June primary date, which is expected to depress turnouts, and radically redrawn districts that offer no precedent, observers agree that what will happen is anyone’s guess.
"I think everything’s in the air," said Hunter College Professor Kenneth Sherrill of the handful of contested Democratic primaries. "There’s a huge amount of uncertainty."
Part of the trouble with forecasting the outcomes is that there are so many unknowns.
The last time the city held June primaries was back in the 1970s, making it difficult to predict who will turn out to the polls.
Sherrill said he expects to see very low turnout, with maybe 15 percent of registered Democrats casting votes.
The once-a-decade redistricting process has also dramatically shifted lines, making it difficult to predict how the new districts, with new demographics and new boundaries, will go.
"Primaries are notoriously difficult to predict. And with new district lines, the uncertainty is greater," said Sherrill. "Incumbency means less."
Rangel is facing the toughest challenge of his 42-year career in State Sen. Adriano Espaillat, who has made the case that residents are yearning for a change in leadership in the newly redrawn district, which is now majority Hispanic for the first time.
Rangel could also lose votes to a slew of lesser-known African-American challengers, including Clyde Williams, a Washington veteran who was endorsed by both the Daily News and The New York Times.
"It will be very close," said Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf, who nonetheless gave Rangel the upper hand, citing his name recognition and institutional backing.
"This idea that somehow because you create a majority minority district, the majority will turn out, is not always the case," he said. "You know for sure Harlem is going to turn out for Charlie."
In Brooklyn, bombastic City Councilman Charles Barron appears to have surged in his run against Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, a rising star and once-assumed shoo-in for the seat left open by retiring Ed Towns, terrifying the Democratic establishment in Washington.
"I think everything indicates that one’s really close," said Sherrill, who explained that primaries tend to encourage rabble-rousing candidates like Barron, who are able to draw attention and build excitement.
"Primaries encourage more flamboyant candidates. They encourage candidates that will do almost anything to get their name known. And those are things that Barron is awfully skilled at doing," he said, predicting that the race will come down to which candidate’s ground game is more successful getting supporters to the polls.
The whirlwind race for the seat left open by departing Rep. Gary Ackerman remains "a toss-up" between its three opponents: Assemblyman Rory Lancman, Assemblywoman Grace Meng and City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, that will test the strength of the Queens Democratic Party organization, Sherrill said.
Meng has the backing of both Ackerman and Queens Democratic Party honcho Joe Crowley, and is expected to sweep the district's large Asian population as she seeks to become the state's first Asian-American rep.
Lancman, meanwhile, is expected to do well among Jewish voters in the district, while Crowley has strong support among reliable police, fire and construction trade union members.
Part of the problem for each of the candidates, Sherrill said, is low name recognition.
"The candidates have represented parts of the district before, but not all of it. And members of the City Council and State Legislature are not well-known people," he explained.
That means turnout among each candidate's supporters on election day will be key.
"Political machines are not what political machines used to be," he said. "And so it really turns into a ground game and who can put together a better get-out-the-vote."
Velazquez has racked up a long list of powerful endorsements from everyone from President Barack Obama to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and has strong support across the district. But Lopez has deep ties to the district’s Orthodox Jewish community, whose turnout is typically among the city's highest, and could give Dilan a bump.
Velazquez is generally expected to have the upper hand.
Still, Sherrill said: "I think that there is enough uncertainty that anybody can lose."
The polls will remain open Tuesday from 6 a.m until 9 p.m.