For the second time in three and half years Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan finds himself in a leadership fight. The first in 2015 between him and John DeFrancisco ended with a Flanagan victory to lead what was then the majority chamber. He did so partially on a promise to unite upstate and downstate Republicans, but he also got a boost from Governor Cuomo. 2015 was the peak of the good years between the Democratic Governor and the Republican controlled upper house.

My, how times have changed.

Today Flanagan is facing a new challenge, this time from Senator Cathy Young of Olean, who also has the backing of some strong Republican donors including the Real Estate Board, or REBNY. The environment is very different for this fight, of course, with Republicans heading into the January legislative session with devastating losses, particularly on Flanagan’s home turf of Long island. As one Republican put it recently, “The Long Island 3 doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as The Long island 9” ( Republicans once controlled as many as 9 seats on the island, now it’s down to 3 ).

Democrats won huge last week in the Senate. And lots of people and organizations deserve the credit including Senator Michael Gianaris and The Parkside Group, Governor Andrew Cuomo, The Working Families Party, the anti-IDC groups, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, Cynthia Nixon and of course, the individual candidates themselves. I would never take anything away from those overwhelming Democratic victories. But Republicans also lost in ways that remain baffling. For starters, just look at the votes. Republican Congressional Representative’s Lee Zeldin and Peter King both won. So, clearly the votes were there somewhere for Republicans. It’s not like they stayed home. Yet somehow Democratic Senator John Brooks,who was down ballot from King, and Democratic Senate Candidate Monica Martinez, who was down ballot below Zeldin, both also won. “That’s malpractice,” said one Republican. In the case of the King-Brooks line, they also had votes below them where Michael LiPetri defeated Democrat Christine Pellegrino for the Assembly seat. How does that even happen?

*UPDATE** One Republican points out that the LiPetri Assembly District and the Brooks Senate District are not completely congruous. Trump won LiPetri’s district by more than 20 points in 2016 for example, whereas Hillary won the Brooks district by a point.

Some put the blame on Flanagan, who they say could not manage the relationships needed to support their candidates. “John couldn’t articulate where people stood with him. He’d talk for hours and not say anything,” said one Capitol watcher. For example this year there were internal discussions about a bill to redefine public works. The trade unions really wanted it, and REBNY did not. Nothing wound up happening with the bill, but Flanagan managed to alienate the Trade’s for his failure to get it done, while at the same time upsetting REBNY for even considering the bill in the first place.

Then there was the whole issue of education. Virtually every member of the Republican conference wanted to approve the bill de-coupling annual performance reviews from state testing. Instead of passing the bill commonly referred to as “APPR,” Flanagan held out for additional measures related to charter schools, even though he knew that was a poison pill for the Democratic Assembly and NYSUT. As a topper Republicans didn’t have enough votes to pass anything at the end of session, let alone things the other house opposed.

As a result, NYSUT and the Trade’s went big for Democrats. And REBNY largely stayed on the sidelines.

Then there was the issue with Senator Marty Golden. Simcha Felder, who is a man without a party, didn’t want speed cameras ( Felder is a Democrat who conferences with Republicans ). Instead of protecting an actual member in Golden, Republicans chose to support Felder on the notion that he’d continue to conference with them instead of his own party after the election, and would likely once again be the critical 32nd vote. Big mistake. Golden was not a big supporter of speed cameras to begin with, or at least he opposed the initial pilot program back in 2013. But the man is politically savvy enough to have found Jesus on the issue this past year by realizing he needs to support them in order to win his district. Instead the conference hung him out to dry. Sided with Felder. Blocked speed cameras. And Golden took a beating for it in Bay Ridge. On the Golden situation, one Repub says “You can’t make mistakes like that in a year like this.”

Defenders of Flanagan say it’s grossly unfair to hang all this on his neck. “Things were lined up against us.” Independent expenditure groups largely stayed clear. And as a result many of the races were close. Flanagan is going to make his case to continue on as leader. And while some say Young would send the right message, others say she hasn’t always demonstrated great leadership. One insider says she “treats everything like it is a crisis.”

Bottom line? It’s a very healthy debate for Republicans to be having right now. The odds were certainly against them this cycle. But some argue while it was always gonna be bad, it just didn’t have to be this bad.