ALBANY – For years, Republicans maintained their grip on the New York Senate, hanging on to their last bastion of power in a blue state that kept getting bluer.


They ceded control to Democrats at the start of this year. Then came the exodus.


As of Wednesday, eight of the 23 current Senate Republicans have declined to run for re-election or are seeking another office in 2020, the next year their seats are on the ballot.


The rash of Republican retirements has made the already difficult task of regaining the Senate majority seem gargantuan, especially since six of the eight soon-to-be-open districts have a Democratic enrollment edge.


And to make things even more difficult, Senate Republicans have struggled to raise money since losing the majority, reporting about $300,000 in their main fundraising account earlier this month, far less than the $1.8 million reported by their Democratic counterparts in July.


The election battle wall have significant implications on any number of policy issues in New York.


When Democrats took control of the Senate this year, they successfully passed many bills that had been blocked by Republicans for years, including major reforms to the election and cash-bail systems and a measure allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for driver's licenses.


"It's a struggle," Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan, R-Suffolk County, said last week of the coming election cycle. "It's a battle. But it's a battle worth fighting."


GOP exodus began in March


The Republican exodus began with the abrupt March resignation of local 57th District Senator Cathy Young, who represented southern Livingston County and all of Allegany, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties. (Republicans were able to retain the seat in a special election in November.)


Then came western New York Sens. Chris Jacobs of Buffalo and Rob Ortt of North Tonawanda, both of whom launched 2020 bids for the congressional seat vacated by now-former Rep. Chris Collins.


At the beginning of November, Sen. Robert Antonacci, R-Syracuse, won a race for state Supreme Court justice, meaning he will soon vacate his Senate seat despite first winning it just last year.


On Black Friday, Sen. George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, Schenectady County, announced he wouldn't seek re-election after three terms in the Senate.


Then came a quick run of retirements: Longtime Sen. Betty Little of the North Country declined a re-election bid on Dec. 5; Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer, an Amherst Republican whose district stretched into Rochester, followed the next day.


Last week, Sen. Joseph Robach, R-Greece, Monroe County, announced he wouldn't run in 2020, followed by fellow Rochester-area Sen. Rich Funke on Tuesday.


The USA TODAY Network New York surveyed the remaining 15 Senate Republicans or their staff, asking whether they intend to run for re-election in 2020.


All signaled they do intend to run again next year, with one exception: Long Island Sen. Phil Boyle, who said he will soon decide whether to run for Congress to succeed longtime Rep. Peter King, who is retiring.


"I'm weighing that," Boyle said. "I'm going to decide in the next few weeks. If I don't, I'm definitely going to run for re-election in the state Senate.


Democrats flex their muscle in Albany


Aside from Young, none of the other eight Republican senators who have declined a re-election bid have stepped down, instead intending to serve out the rest of their terms that run through 2020.


But unless they change their minds, they won't be returning once the next Senate is seated in 2021.


Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, said the Republican retirements are a nod to Democrats' strength in Albany.


The Democrat-led Senate proved why elections matter, quickly passing significant measures this year that they had pushed for years before taking the majority.


They include a soon-to-take-effect reform of cash bail, the law allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for driving privileges and the creation of an early voting period before Election Day.


They also approved stronger protections for LGBTQ individuals into law and a state-level DREAM Act, which will allow immigrants to receive state tuition aid regardless of their immigration status.


Democrats control 40 of the 63 seats in the Senate.


"Every day seems to be a new Republican retirement," Stewart-Cousins told reporters last week. "I think that speaks volumes. I think they understand that we are going to continue to have a Democratic majority in the Senate."


Stewart-Cousins isn't shy about sharing her goal for the 2020 election: Electing at least 43 Democrats to the Senate, enough to give her party a veto-proof majority.


It would be a largely symbolic margin, since the Legislature hasn't attempted to override a Cuomo veto — which requires a 2/3 vote — since the governor took office.


Democrats already control more than 100 seats in the 150-seat Assembly.


"I'm looking for at least 43," Stewart-Cousins said. "That is the floor, that's not the ceiling. So I think we are ever closer to that and more."


Republicans acknowledge 'uphill climb'


Flanagan said he's still hoping to win back the majority next year, though he acknowledged it's an "uphill climb."


He said Republicans intend to use the Senate Democrats' policies against them, specifically citing the cash-bail reforms.


Starting Jan. 1, those who are awaiting trial on misdemeanor and non-violent felony charges will be released from jail if they have been unable to make bail, a measure Democrats have said is meant to ensure the state isn't criminalizing poverty.


District attorneys and law-enforcement officials have expressed concern about the reforms, warning it could lead to potentially dangerous people being let free without incentive to return to court.


"They have to run on this record," Flanagan said of Democrats. "They have to defend a lot of things that we think are indefensible."


Flanagan told reporters last week he was confident in his grasp on the Senate minority leader position, despite the rash of retirements.


Boyle said the retirements were likely affected by members who reached retirement age or grew frustrated being in the Senate minority.


"They were at the point in their life when it was time to retire," Boyle said.


"Others may have been affected by going into the minority. But I do think with great challenges comes great opportunity, and it's going to allow for an entire new generation of Republican state senators that will win back the majority next year."


Ranzenhofer generally agreed.


"You are looking at a lot of people who are at or past retirement age and don't want to spend their entire lives working," he said. "I think that's more reflective of that."