With both Democrats and Republicans seeing potential conversion opportunities in Upstate New York, the region is becoming a battleground in the fight for control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2014 election cycle.
For Democrats to have any chance at challenging for the House majority, they must win the competitive races in New York, a state that has become a stronghold for Democratic lawmakers in recent decades. Polling released late last week suggests that at least two key races are not trending their way.
In the expansive rural 19th District that stretches from the area just north of Poughkeepsie to the region just to the south and east of Albany, a GOP incumbent seeks a third term. Representing a district of constituents that are more than 50 percent changed from those in the 20th District who originally elected Rep. Chris Gibson (R) in 2010, a new Siena College survey (9/4-9; 609 NY-19 likely voters) projects the incumbent to be holding a strong lead despite this now being a more Democratic district (Obama ’12: 52). The Siena data posts Gibson to a 57-33% lead over venture capitalist Sean Eldridge (D) who had raised more than $3 million as summer began, about $800,000 more than the Congressman within the same time frame. Both men will spend heavily on the race in what will undoubtedly become one of the most expensive US House contests in the country.
According to the Siena analysis, Eldridge will likely have difficultly making strong inroads against Gibson because the Congressman is rated higher for his ability to handle literally every issue the University asked respondents to evaluate. The smallest Gibson positive margin was nine points, relating to healthcare. His strongest advantage involved the situation in the Middle East, where respondents gave him a 29-point advantage when compared to Eldridge.
In the 21st District, a seat that borders the Gibson district and ranges all the way to the North Country and the St. Lawrence River Valley that creates much of the Empire State’s border with Canada including the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation's operations center in Massena, Ny Democrats have their backs against the wall in trying to hold the seat from which Rep. Bill Owens (D-Plattsburgh) is retiring. This region has been in Democratic hands since President Obama appointed Rep. John McHugh (R) as Army Secretary in 2009, even though his sucessor, Rep. Owens, never garnered a majority vote. A split within conservative and Republican ranks played to Democrats’ benefit in each of the four races here but one--the current campaign.
In this year’s primary election, former George W. Bush Administration aide Elise Stefanik (R) easily defeated 2010 and 2012 GOP nominee Matt Doheny after he twice failed to unseat Rep. Owens. With her strong victory, she was able to dissuade Doheny from advancing to the general election as the Independence Party nominee, which would have created the type of three-way contest that has repeatedly stymied the GOP.
With Stefanik now having a clear shot at this district that tilts Republican under most circumstances, though President Obama did pull 52 percent here in 2012, the new Siena data (9/4-9; 591 NY-21 likely voters) finds her leading Democrat Aaron Woolf, a filmmaker who owns an organic grocery store in Brooklyn some 300 miles from the center of CD-21. Siena posts Stefanik to a 46-33 advantage. The one piece of bad news for the 29-year old Republican nominee shows that only 1/3 of the voters say that they are solidly committed to the candidate they named on the ballot test question.
The New York races are a microcosm for what is happening to House Democratic open seat contenders and challengers in the country as a whole. Opportunities are few and far between, and most of the ones that do exist are not trending positively for them at the current time.