There is little sign at this point -— among Democratic leaders in New York or Washington, D.C. — that Democrats will make the necessary investments in the 26th district special election to compete against Republican nominee Jane Corwin. Corwin appears to be days away from securing the Conservative Party ballot line despite early bristling from tea party activists.
Even the prospect of two motivated third-party candidates has done little to encourage New York State Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs.
“That makes it more viable, but it doesn’t mean that you’ve crossed the threshold yet,” he told Roll Call in a recent interview. “We’re also waiting to see how enthusiastic the DCCC is about this race. It’s a very tough seat.”
Asked how the state party would judge the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s enthusiasm, Jacobs replied, “Dollars.”
“If the DCCC is going to invest money in this race and send up staff and go all out, it would have to be predicated on the viewpoint that we can stand a chance at winning,” he said. “Now, we can always win a race, and there are a lot of variables, but you start with the registrations. And we haven’t seen the Democratic performance being all that impressive for anybody in that district.”
Today is the party’s self-imposed deadline for declaring interest in the suddenly open seat.
Jacobs has been in regular contact with DCCC Chairman Steve Israel, but he said the New York lawmaker had yet to pledge any resources to the special election to replace former Rep. Chris Lee (R), who resigned suddenly last month amid reports that the married Congressman sought romantic encounters on the Internet.
DCCC spokesman Josh Schwerin offered a short statement when asked Wednesday about the DCCC’s planned investment. “The DCCC is doing an assessment of the race,” he said, declining to elaborate.
(The opposite has been true in a special election in a Democratic-leaning California district, where Republicans don’t plan to invest time or resources.)
In New York, Democrats are quietly hoping for a Republican implosion.
Just as was the case in the 2009 special election in New York’s 23rd district, many think that only a divided GOP electorate could help deliver the seat to Democrats. And two Republicans who tried and failed to secure the GOP nomination, Iraq War veteran David Bellavia and businessman Jack Davis, are openly pursuing third-party candidacies.
But a 23rd district repeat appears unlikely.
State Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long, who played a key role by backing the third-party challenger in the 23rd district during the last cycle, met privately with Bellavia on Thursday morning and suggested afterward that he would probably back the Republican nominee, Corwin.
“He’s very intent that he’s going to make this run,” Long said of Bellavia. “I told him that I appreciated everything he said to me, that naturally it would be rolling around in my head, but I felt that Jane really had a leg up here.”
The Conservative Party’s executive board could vote to award its ballot line to Corwin by the end of the week, Long said.
In New York, there are six lines on the ballot. Candidates can appear on multiple lines, so Republicans and Democrats work to get the endorsement of smaller parties. When those parties break off and endorse their own candidates, it can split the vote and dramatically change the dynamic of an election, as was the case in the 23rd district.
Should Bellavia fail to secure the Conservative Party line, and there’s every indication that he will, his road to winning a substantial portion of the vote will be difficult. He is the sentimental favorite of local tea party leaders, but they’ve been reluctant to openly support him for fear it could hand the seat to Democrats.
Without the Conservative Party, Bellavia and Davis, a former Democratic Congressional candidate, could seek the Independence Party line. But Davis’ standing with the Independence Party is questionable in light of allegations that he made inappropriate payments to relatives of party officials during his 2008 Congressional bid.
New York’s complicated election law offers another option, however. Bellavia or Davis could create their own party line on the ballot.
Each would need to collect 3,500 signatures within 12 days of the governor’s proclamation of the date of the special election. The timeline is unclear at this point, but the contest is expected to be at least two months away.
Davis and Bellavia have been securing staff in anticipation of a run. Davis has the financial resources to assemble a large team to help collect signatures should he need to, but Bellavia would likely need to rely on volunteers.
If Bellavia has an edge with Republicans, it’s on abortion. Both tea party and Conservative Party leaders have raised questions about Corwin’s position on the issue (she supports abortion rights during the first trimester).
Long downplayed the concern, however.
“This is not New York 23, where Republicans put up a liberal candidate and we had another Republican who was a conservative. In this case, we have two conservatives,” he said. “[Bellavia] may be a little more conservative on a couple issues, which makes the choice more difficult, but Jane achieved a very high [conservative] rating in the Assembly.”
Meanwhile, Democratic officials are eager to tamp down expectations in one of the Empire State’s most conservative regions.
“You have to be realistic in this game. Resources are not unlimited,” Jacobs said. “You also don’t want to make this into any kind of referendum that from the get go is an unfair one because it’s so difficult to win. Any time you have special election, naturally the press and the public look at it as some sort of referendum, either on the Obama administration or even [Democratic Gov. Andrew] Cuomo.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.