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.