While evidence is emerging that New York’s looming special election is more competitive than many expected, GOP operatives have long worried about the impact of wealthy third-party candidate Jack Davis. It is only now, however, that those fears are on display.
The Tea Party Express, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the state GOP have joined the fight to protect the western New York seat previously held by former Rep. Chris Lee (R). And with the May 24 election less than three weeks away, the powerful conservative group American Crossroads is actively considering whether to pour resources into the race as well.
The special contest in New York’s 26th district was supposed to be an easy win for Republicans in a region that is among the most conservative in the state. But even as national Democrats sit on their hands, concerned Republicans and their allies have stepped up attacks against Davis and Democrat Kathy Hochul in recent days, a plan largely set in motion even before a Siena College poll last week showed Republican nominee and presumed frontrunner Jane Corwin ahead by just 5 points.
Crossroads spokesman Jonathan Collegio would confirm only that the independent group is currently polling in the district. He declined to say what Crossroads would do if it determines the seat could slip into Democratic hands, a possibility given the dynamic of the three-way race.
Republican strategists agree that Davis, a wealthy industrialist who has claimed the “Tea Party” ballot line and promised to spend $3 million on the race, is a problem.
“Jack Davis is a Democrat, has run as a Democrat, so the fact he’s trying to cast himself as a Tea Party candidate is amusing,” Crossroads political director Carl Forti told Roll Call this week. “I think [former Rep. Tom] Reynolds wrote a pretty good playbook for how to beat Jack Davis, and if you can take him out of the equation, the poll numbers fix themselves.”
In the Siena survey, the only public poll on the race released to date, Davis captured 23 percent while Corwin led Hochul, 36 percent to 31 percent.
The question, of course, is exactly how Republicans can take Davis “out of the equation” in a special election that Forti says “doesn’t follow conventional rules.”
The national tea party movement is trying to help.
“We’re basically looking at how we can be most effective in a limited amount of time,” Tea Party Express spokesman Levi Russell said.
His organization’s political action committee is up with its first radio ad this week attacking the Democratic nominee and expects to add a second radio spot “in a pretty heavy rotation all the way up to the election,” he said.
The Tea Party Express is crafting a larger plan that may include a national phone banking operation, a rally in the district and more email blasts to supporters that target Davis.
Davis is the self-proclaimed tea party candidate and took advantage of New York’s quirky election laws to appear on the ballot as such, although local tea party groups have split over whether to support him. In a recent email message to supporters, the Tea Party Express called him “a fake tea party candidate,” noting that he previously ran for Congress as a Democrat.
“[Democrats] registered a bogus ‘tea party political party’ and got Davis to run. He’s now taking 23 percent of the vote — much of it votes from what would have gone to the Conservative Republican [Jane Corwin],” reads the Tea Party Express message.
The NRCC has been privately concerned about Davis, but has yet to publicly attack him. And while both national parties are reluctant to appear too involved in the local contest, the NRCC began running phone banks out of its Capitol Hill headquarters earlier this week and will continue through election day.
The New York Republican Party is taking a more aggressive position.
In a series of mailers that all but ignore Hochul, the state GOP links Davis to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and “liberal Democrats.” “Meet the Real Jack Davis: A Liberal Democrat That Must Be Stopped,” says the headline on one mailed piece. Another claims he supported Pelosi and President Barack Obama while accepting contributions from ethics-challenged Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.). “With a record like this, how can we trust Jack Davis?” asks the mailer, which features photos of Pelosi, Obama and Rangel.
And as Republicans rally to help save the seat, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has shown steadfast reluctance to help Hochul. Privately, the DCCC suggests that it needs to be smart about distributing its limited resources, especially given that the 26th district may disappear as a result of redistricting. New York is set to lose two Congressional seats.
The New York Democratic Party, meanwhile, is trying to do the best it can in a limited capacity.
“I know I’ve given her the maximum contribution, and I’ve been asking others to do the same,” state party Chairman Jay Jacobs told Roll Call, adding that local county party chairmen will likely begin a phone banking operation at the end of next week.
When asked about the DCCC’s lack of involvement in the race, he said, “They’re doing what they can. I don’t want to say they haven’t done what needs to be done.”
Jacobs considers DCCC Chairman Steve Israel, also of New York, a friend.
“Steve is on board here. He’s taking a solid look at it,” Jacobs said. “He’s got to be prudent and we’ve got to be smart about it. ... It is an overwhelmingly Republican district. And what we don’t want to do is create the story line that we are so engaged in this that should it work out the way every pollster imagines, it comes out to the detriment of the president, or whoever it may be. That’s just not fair.”
Asked about the polling that suggests the seat is within reach, Jacobs said, “I always had the sense it was going to be a little bit closer.”
“It seems like we have a reasonable shot,” he said.