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Updated: 9:16 p.m.
It is a special election that was never supposed to be this close. But outside groups have begun pouring money into New York’s 26th district, a conservative region near the Empire State’s western border that has become an unlikely battlefield in a new age of political influence.
American Crossroads, the outside group developed in part by Karl Rove little more than a year ago, dropped a bomb Tuesday. Two weeks before voters head to the polls, the organization dumped $650,000 into the race to reserve two weeks of broadcast and cable television advertising in the Buffalo and Rochester media markets. Crossroads released an ad Tuesday night that targets Jack Davis, a former Democrat running on the “Tea Party” ballot line and complicating Republican Jane Corwin’s path to victory.
A handful of public and internal polls suggest that Democrat Kathy Hochul and Corwin are knotted in a tight race. And while the candidates themselves have poured millions into the contest -— both Davis and Corwin are independently wealthy — Crossroads’ investment could produce a flood of outside cash to influence a special election that few took seriously a month ago.
“This may turn into an arms race,” one Democratic strategist said.
Indeed, less than five hours after Crossroads’ intentions became public, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee decided to place a $250,000 media buy in the district, according to another Democratic operative.
The DCCC had already been funneling money and resources to its nominee as quietly as possible, fearing that a more public role might persuade Crossroads and its conservative allies to jump in sooner.
“We have been very active behind the scenes,” DCCC spokeswoman Jennifer Crider said. “It would have been irresponsible for the DCCC to highlight the race early on when these outside groups would have been there sooner.”
In addition to providing research, communications and political support, the DCCC helped raise $50,000 for the Hochul campaign and spent the maximum coordinated limit of $47,000, according to Crider.
But Crossroads can do much more.
Created in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision in 2010, the conservative group has quickly become a national force, fueled by anonymous donations that it hopes will exceed $120 million this cycle. In some ways, Crossroads is doing the heavy lifting that would have traditionally fallen to the National Republican Congressional Committee.
It’s still unclear whether the NRCC will devote significant resources to an independent media buy in the district, where it has been providing Corwin logistical support for months. The committee’s options are limited because of $8 million in unpaid debt from a successful 2010 cycle. And Crossroads’ deep pockets mean that the NRCC might not have to do much.