Once again, the tea party movement is poised to play a critical role in deciding a New York special election.
But major questions remain in New York’s 26th district over whether grass-roots conservatives will support the establishment favorite, state Assemblywoman Jane Corwin (R), or the tea party’s sentimental favorite, Iraq War veteran David Bellavia (R).
Their decision could help deliver the traditionally Republican seat to Democrats, although Bellavia appears to be running as a third-party candidate regardless.
Just two days after the seven local GOP county chairmen unanimously selected Corwin as the Republican nominee, Bellavia formed a Congressional exploratory committee with the Federal Election Commission.
It was, according to Bellavia’s statement, “another milestone on the road to the United States Congress.” And he’s taking his candidacy seriously.
Roll Call has learned that Bellavia will secure a national fundraiser in the coming days and plans to add a national consultant in the next week. Regardless of whether local tea party groups openly support his candidacy, Bellavia could tap into the national conservative grass-roots movement to fund a formidable campaign.
“He’s going to have the tea party’s support,” Bellavia spokesman Bill Hagan told Roll Call on Thursday. “We’ve been inundated with e-mails and people showing up at his house. It’s been overwhelming.”
New York’s tea party community, however, is divided. There are signs that local conservatives learned from the 2009 special election in New York’s 23rd district, where a tea party-backed challenger split the Republican vote, ultimately handing the seat to a Democrat for the first time in more than a century.
“We’re not entirely unhappy with Jane Corwin,” Julianne “Jul” Thompson, chief organizer and co-founder of the largest tea party organization in the western New York district, TEA New York, told Roll Call this week. “She actually does embody a lot of the tea party values. She is fairly conservative.”
Thompson and her husband, who all but endorsed Bellavia in a Buffalo newspaper earlier in the week, have also privately met with the potential third-party challenger in recent days.
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.