While its new leader has vowed to stay on the offensive this cycle, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has played a limited role at best in the western New York special election that could be Democrats’ only House pickup opportunity this year.
“Obviously we are consulting with them, as we would any campaign,” a DCCC aide said of Democratic nominee Kathy Hochul’s campaign. But relative to sending financial resources or staff, “We’re still making an assessment of the race.”
The hands-off approach reflects the reality that even with a three-way election, many Washington Democrats don’t think the race is worth the investment. GOP nominee Jane Corwin is the undisputed frontrunner largely because of the composition of New York’s 26th district, which may be the most conservative in the state.
And it could disappear by 2012 as part of the redistricting process, prompting one Democratic strategist to suggest it would be irresponsible to dump limited DCCC resources into a district that may not exist next year.
On the ground, however, Hochul is showing some signs of life.
Her campaign reported Wednesday having raised more than $350,000 in the first quarter of the year.
With Hochul entering the race late in the quarter, the haul represents the efforts of just one month and puts her in line with several established Members of Congress gearing up for difficult re-election battles. She finished the quarter, which ended March 31, with $300,000 cash on hand, according to campaign spokesman Fabien Levy.
Levy told Roll Call on Wednesday that internal polling showed a competitive contest, in part because of the inclusion of third-party candidate Jack Davis, a wealthy former Democrat who will run on the Tea Party ballot line.
Davis unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination earlier in the spring and has since aligned himself with one of the area’s warring tea party factions.
“We’re right there,” Levy said of the polling numbers, declining to share his specific data. “And Jack Davis is pulling votes away from Corwin. We have the polling.”
He insisted it is a “competitive race,” but Republicans pounced on the polling claim and drew parallels with the 2008 race in the same district. At that time, Democrat Alice Kryzan released internal polling showing a double-digit lead two weeks before the election. She ultimately fell to Chris Lee (R) by more than 14 points. Earlier this year, Lee resigned after a website published sexually suggestive emails and photos.
“The DCCC is not going to make the same mistake twice by backing a candidate with inflated polling numbers,” one Republican strategist said.
Corwin spokesman Matthew Harakal told Roll Call that it seemed like Hochul was trying to “inflate her own internal polling numbers to try and trick Washington special interests into funding her borrow-and-spend economic agenda.”
Republicans have been polling the race as well. One GOP consultant noted that Corwin holds a “double-digit” lead over Hochul in the most recent internal polling available, although the consultant would not be more specific or share the data.
There is no public polling for the May 24 special election, when voters will select a replacement for Lee.
Davis has vowed to spend up to $3 million on the race, and a Republican consultant who tracks media buys reports that Davis has already reserved $1 million in television time in the Rochester and Buffalo markets. The buys, initially set to begin running Monday, will instead start today.
Davis’ first television ad, a 30-second spot to begin running Thursday on cable and broadcast stations, features the businessman’s opposition to free-trade agreements, which are largely blamed for hurting the region’s manufacturing base. It’s a contrast with his recent campaign rhetoric targeting Corwin.
“Both parties in Washington support trade deals like NAFTA that send our jobs overseas,” Davis says in the ad. “They’ve been bought by the multinationals. I’m Jack Davis — I cannot be bought.”
Given that Davis has reserved television time for the next six weeks, it’s unclear whether he will maintain the positive tone or decide to target one, or both of his competitors by name.
Corwin was first on the air, and Hochul also is running ads.
Ultimately, the Hochul campaign insists that it doesn’t need any help from Washington.
Already, Republicans have charged that Hochul is “Washington’s candidate,” given her previous work experience for the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and former Rep. John LaFalce. In some ways, a reduced DCCC presence could be a good thing, Levy said.
“The DCCC is not doing a thing for us,” he said. “They don’t need to. Our fundraising numbers show that we’re doing well.”