The Republican nominee and presumed frontrunner in the special election to replace ex-Rep. Chris Lee (R) has won the endorsement of what is believed to be western New York's largest tea party group.
State Assemblywoman Jane Corwin already captured the GOP, Conservative and Independence Party ballot lines. Now, she can claim the support of TEA New York, which formally endorsed her following a forum Thursday night.
"Tonight, TEA New York sent a strong message by unanimously endorsing Jane Corwin for the 26th Congressional district," Rus Thompson, co-founder of TEA New York, said in a statement. "We look forward to electing her as our voice in Washington."
The battle over tea party support has been a running subplot in the 26th district special election, which is set for May 24. Republicans are largely expected to win the seat, which is among the most conservative in the state. But some Republicans fear that a third-party candidate, millionaire Jack Davis, could siphon away some of the conservative vote and ultimately hand the seat to Democratic nominee Kathy Hochul.
Indeed, Corwin's latest endorsement was largely dismissed by Davis, who claimed the "Tea Party" ballot line as his own last month after submitting more than 10,000 signatures.
TEA New York was furious that Davis used New York's quirky election laws to portray himself as the consensus tea party candidate, even before it had made an endorsement.
But another tea party group, known as the Western New York Tea Party Coalition, is backing Davis, who was a Republican, became a Democratic Congressional candidate and has since turned Republican again.
Davis skipped Thursday night's TEA New York forum altogether, instead attending an event with the competing tea party group.
Davis spokesman Curtis Ellis charged that TEA New York was always going to back Corwin.
"TEA New York works for the Republicans, works for Carl Paladino, the Republican machine," Ellis said before Thursday's endorsement had been finalized. "We know where that's going. I'll make $1,000 bet with you right now ó they're endorsing Jane Corwin. They already said Jack should withdraw from the race."
Corwin, meanwhile, offered this statement:
"I appreciate the support of TEA New York and all Western New Yorkers who are committed to cutting spending and changing the way Washington does business. For too long, Washington politicians have failed to take the lead on cutting spending and reforming our tax system, and individuals such as the members of TEA New York have led while career politicians continue to follow."