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Polls or Fundamentals in N.Y. 1st District Race?

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop won re-election to New York’s 1st district by fewer than 600 votes in 2010. This year he’s facing the same opponent and the race optics have changed.

I have been watching New York’s 1st district since I came to Washington, D.C., in 1980.

The suburban district on the east end of Long Island has often had competitive races and has flipped from one party to the other a number of times during the past 30 years.

I saw incumbent Bill Carney (R) win re-election that November, and I watched George Hochbrueckner (D) win the seat when Carney retired four years later. I saw Republican Michael Forbes beat Hochbrueckner in 1994, and I watched Forbes switch parties and then lose his bid for the Democratic nomination in 2000.

Later that same year, I saw Republican Felix Grucci win the open seat, and only two years later, I saw Grucci lose to Democrat Tim Bishop. And in 2010, I watched Bishop win re-election against GOP challenger Randy Altschuler by just 593 votes in one of the closest outcomes in the country.

That history is why I was surprised by a July 17-18 Garin-Hart-Yang survey for the House Majority PAC, a Democratic super PAC, that showed Bishop leading Altschuler by a stunning 24 points, 56 percent to 32 percent, in this year’s rematch.

It’s not that the five-term Bishop shouldn’t have a slight advantage this year. He survived the 2010 GOP wave, so it isn’t unreasonable to think that he is more likely than not to survive again (which is why my newsletter rates the race as Tossup/Tilt Democratic). But a 24-point lead?

Not surprisingly, I had to wait only a few days until Altschuler started crowing about the results of his new poll, conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, which uses “automated polling methodology and procedures licensed from Rasmussen Reports, LLC.”

The survey showed Altschuler leading Bishop by 4 points, 47 percent to 43 percent. That’s not impossible. But the survey also showed presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney ahead of President Barack Obama 54 percent to 40 percent in the district, which is very hard to believe.

Obama beat Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the district by about 3 points in 2008, 51 percent to 48 percent, so it’s certainly possible that Obama would trail in the district by a point or two now. But a 14-point lead and Obama drawing only 40 percent?

So, I’m stuck with two very different surveys. What should I believe?

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