New York's 26th congressional district stretches from the suburbs east of Buffalo to the suburbs west of Rochester, a mostly rural, white, and Republican part of New York. As Michael Barone notes in The Almanac of American Politics, "People speak not in the pungent accents of New York City but in flat Midwestern tones." The 26th gave 55 percent of its vote to George W. Bush in 2004, and 52 percent to McCain in 2008.
Special elections can be like out-of-town openings for Broadway shows -- a time for test marketing themes and slogans. Though the race began with two attractive, barely distinguishable women candidates, running boilerplate ads ("She's a fighter!" "She's for jobs!"), it has become something else.
The Democrat, Kathy Hochul, though claiming to favor smaller government and deficit reduction, has seized upon the Ryan budget and Medicare. In a recent ad, featuring ominous music and dark tones, she asserts that the Ryan budget, which Republican Jane Corwin supports, would "end Medicare," and "seniors would have to pay $6400 more for the same coverage." Additionally, the narrator continues, the budget Corwin supports would "cut taxes for the very rich" and "overwhelmingly benefit the rich."
The Siena poll found Corwin leading by only 36 percent to 31 percent for Hochul in a district where Republicans have a seven-point registration advantage. There are two other candidates on the ballot as well: Jack Davis, often referred to as the tea party candidate, and Ian Murphy (the leftist activist who impersonated David Koch in a phone call to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker), running on the Green Party ticket. Davis is polling at 23 percent and Murphy at 1 percent.
So is this a case of conservative purists spoiling a race for a solid Republican? Not at all. Davis, a millionaire, has run for Congress on three previous occasions on the Democratic ticket. This time around, he didn't receive the endorsement of any tea party groups. But New York permits third-party candidates to choose their ballot line provided they can collect the requisite signatures. Davis hired a signature-gathering firm to qualify for the ballot and is now buying ads to tout his favorite themes: opposition to free trade and cracking down on offshore tax evasion. He supported Barack Obama in 2008 and favors abortions throughout the nine months of pregnancy.