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Updated: 12:39 p.m.
The special election in New York’s 26th district is far closer than many believed, according to a poll released Friday by Siena College.
While Republican nominee Jane Corwin has long been the presumed frontrunner in the western New York district, which is among the most conservative in the state, she leads Democrat Kathy Hochul by just 5 points, 36 percent to 31 percent.
The narrow lead is due largely to the presence of third-party candidate Jack Davis, the wealthy repeat Congressional hopeful who will appear on the ballot under the “Tea Party” line. Davis earned 23 percent in the poll of 484 likely voters conducted Tuesday and Wednesday. The margin of error was 4.5 points.
In what was the first public poll released in the special election, Davis appears to be pulling a significant segment of support from Republicans, Democrats and independents — 24 percent, 20 percent and 27 percent, respectively. Corwin, meanwhile, is drawing just 56 percent of Republicans but 34 percent of independents.
“In a district with a 7-point edge for Republicans among enrolled voters and years of Republican representation, Corwin’s support lags behind Republican enrollment,” Siena pollster Steven Greenberg said in a statement.
The special election is set for May 24, just over three weeks away.
Davis spokesman Curtis Ellis largely dismissed the survey, despite the results that seemed to confirm his role as influential in the contest.
“Jack Davis is not interested in political games, horse races or polls. The only poll that counts is on Election Day,” Ellis said. “We’re gaining on everyone, we’re doing it without support from the two political parties and despite all their influence. We’re getting our message out and we’re going to win.”
Having already loaned his campaign more than $1 million, Davis has promised to spend as much as $3 million on the race. All three candidates already are running television ads.
Democrats and their allies were the most excited about the survey, which they say provides evidence that they could actually win a race and provide their first pickup opportunity of 2011.
“This race is winnable,” EMILY’s List spokeswoman Jess McIntosh said. “EMILY’s List has known it for a while now, and we’re thrilled to be supporting such a strong candidate. ... This race is one everyone should be watching.”
The results would seem to put pressure on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to play a more active role in the contest. So far, the DCCC has been reluctant to commit resources to the race, which was seen as a long shot at best.
There is reason to be cautious in reading too much into the poll, given that special election turnout is difficult to predict and that ballot placement could be a major factor. Davis, for example, will be the fourth and final candidate listed on the ballot.
DCCC spokesman Josh Schwerin said in a statement that voters are “responding to Hochul’s message.”
“We’ll continue working with the campaign and tracking developments closely,” he said.
Greenberg suggested the race is up for grabs.
“Three weeks is a lifetime in a tight political campaign like this, and the only thing obvious in this race is that voters are going to be inundated by commercials, mailings and campaigning,” he said. “Stay tuned.”