A special election in New York's 26th Congressional District is a much closer contest than once thought, with Republican Jane Corwin leading Democrat Kathy Hochul by only five points in a new poll released early Friday.
Corwin, a state assemblywoman, takes 36 percent support in the Siena College poll, while Hochul, the Erie County Clerk, draws 31 percent. Wealthy businessman Jack Davis, a former Democrat running as a Tea Party candidate, earns the backing of 23 percent of likely voters, and his support appears to come at the expense of both major-party candidates; 20 percent of Democrats and 24 percent of Republicans support Davis.
Blogger Ian Murphy, running on the Green Party line, earns just one percent, and nine percent of voters are undecided with less than a month to go until the special election on May 24.
Democrats have been downplaying their chances in the district, which spans from the Rochester suburbs to the outskirts of Buffalo. The media often leaps upon special election results as indicators of the national political atmosphere, even though most strategists agree those special elections are hardly indicative of wider trends. But such close polling results opens both sides to the risk of losing; Democrats face an uphill fight in the district, one of just four in the state to have favored John McCain over President Obama in 2008.
The new survey suggests the race is eminently winnable, which could force both the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee to get involved. And if they get involved, the losing side takes the blame, no matter how harsh the political climate.
Corwin and Hochul have identical favorable/unfavorable splits, suggesting that they are known by roughly the same number of voters. Both candidates are viewed favorably by 44 percent of likely voters and unfavorably by 31 percent. A quarter of likely voters has no opinion of each candidate.
Voters are more divided on Davis, with virtually equal numbers viewing him favorably and unfavorably; 18 percent did not have an opinion of Davis, who is no stranger to voters in the district, having run against then-Rep. Tom Reynolds
(R) twice as the Democratic nominee. Davis sought the GOP nomination for the special election, but after being passed over for Corwin, he instead petitioned his way onto the ballot as an independent and ran on his own tea party line -- though some Tea Party groups in the region haven't been convinced of his change of heart.
Davis, who has pledged to spend up to $3 million of his own money, is using his own fortune to finance his whole campaign. Corwin also has her own personal wealth to tap and gave her campaign $1 million as of the last reporting period. Meanwhile, Hochul has raised over $350,000. While Hochul has gotten the endorsement of the pro-choice women's group EMILY's List -- not know to back a candidate even in an uphill race unless they have a chance of winning -- the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has so far remained on the sidelines, saying repeatedly they're still evaluating the race and whether they will go in and lend support to Hochul.
The Siena poll also explores some of the major issues in the campaign. Likely voters favor repealing the health care law passed last year, 58 percent to 36 percent. Thirty-four percent said their most important issue was federal budget deficit, followed by jobs at 24 percent and health care at 13 percent.
But according to the poll, Hochul's recent TV ad challenging House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan
's (R-Wis.) budget plan and its changes to Medicare -- the first of its kind
from a Democratic candidate -- could resonate with voters. A sizable majority, 59 percent, opposes "cutting federal spending by lessening entitlements like Medicare and Social Security," while only 38 percent supports those spending cuts. Hochul's ad began running Tuesday, just as the poll went into the field, but Hochul has been pressing Corwin specifically over her support of the Ryan plan for weeks. Davis has also said he opposes the Ryan plan and any changes to Medicare.
Voters also seemed turned off by negative attacks from candidates. Corwin's second television ad branded Hochul as Nancy Pelosi
's "hand-picked candidate" -- a familiar attack used by Republicans across the country in 2010. Twenty-seven percent said they believed Corwin was running the most negative campaign, followed by 18 percent for Hochul and 13 percent for Davis. It's not a significant margin -- and when asked who was running the most positive campaign, the results were also mixed. Twenty-nine percent said Hochul was running the most positive campaign, while 26 percent said Davis, and 22 percent said Corwin.
The district's Republican lean is on display in this nugget: 46 percent believe that Corwin is the most likely winner of the special election, compared to just 26 percent of voters who believe that Hochul is more likely to win. Just 14 percent pick Davis as the more probable victor. A 53 percent majority also said they'd rather have their new member side with House Speaker John Boehner
; 36 percent answered Obama and the Democrats.
The poll was conducted April 26 and 27; 484 likely special election voters were surveyed, for a margin of error of +/- 4.5 percent.