A new Democratic Party-sponsored poll shows Republican James Tedisco’s apparent lead in the race for the 20th District congressional seat may be slipping.
A poll conducted by Benenson Strategy Group and paid for by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has Tedisco slightly ahead by 7 percentage points. Tedisco leads Democrat Scott Murphy of Glens Falls 44 percent to 37 percent.
The margin of error in the poll is 4.9 percent.
A Siena Research Institute poll two weeks ago showed Tedisco 12 points ahead of Murphy. Another Siena poll is expected to be released today.
The Benenson poll sampled 400 likely voters throughout the district on Feb. 24 and 25. The results were released Wednesday.
The poll found 15 percent of likely voters were still undecided in the race and 4 percent favored Libertarian Eric Sundwall.
The Murphy campaign was pleased with the poll, said spokesman Ryan Rudominer.
Tedisco said Wednesday the poll is a couple of weeks old and he wasn’t putting too much stock in it. “I think we’re doing fantastically,” he said. “We have a lot of energy from the public.”
The special election for the 20th Congressional District, which covers all or part of 10 counties, including Saratoga and Rensselaer counties, takes place March 31.
The 20th District seat became vacant after then-Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand was selected to become a U.S. senator from New York, filling the seat vacated by Hillary Clinton.
Although the district is 41 percent Republican and was held by the GOP for decades, in recent years voters have been just as likely to pick Democrats, especially on the national level.
“It’s not the district that Jerry Solomon had,” said Patrick Lanne of Wilton, a pollster for the Tedisco campaign.
Former Rep. Gerald Solomon, who retired in 1998 after 20 years in Congress, represented the district that is now the 20th.
It’s not even the district that former Rep. John Sweeney had.
In 2000, Sweeney’s 22nd Congressional District, the predecessor to the 20th District, was 45 percent Republican and 23 percent Democrat.
Now those numbers are 41 and 26 percent — the GOP has lost voters and the Democratic Party has gained people.
Voters not enrolled in any political party have remained at 25 percent.
That slippage allowed Gillibrand to secure 62 percent of the vote in November over well-financed Republican Sandy Treadwell.
District voters also chose President Barack Obama over John McCain.
And yet, local Republicans are still likely to get elected, especially those running for state Assembly and Senate districts that lie within the 20th Congressional District.
Roy McDonald, R-Saratoga, was elected to the state Senate with 60 percent of the vote in November. State Sen. Elizabeth Little, R-Queensbury, has been popular in her district as well.
“In some places, it becomes a little bit easier to cross those party lines,” Lanne said. The 20th District is one of those places. “We have a lot more ticket-splitters,” he said.
So what are voters looking for in a candidate?
Often they vote based on personality rather than party, Lanne said.
Just what that means for major party candidates Murphy and Tedisco will be seen in 2 1⁄2 weeks when voters go to the polls.
Tedisco has an advantage if it’s a race about personality, Lanne said. “People know Jim. They have a sense of the person he is.”
Democrats say Murphy, a Glens Falls venture capitalist and entrepreneur, is gaining ground because he is seen as stronger on economic issues.
“Scott Murphy continues to win over voters across the district because he is a leader like Sen. Gillibrand who will work across the aisle to turn our economy around,” said Shripal Shah, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Murphy aligned himself with the popular Gillibrand early on and has followed her lead by being pro-gun rights.
Both national Republican and Democratic parties have funneled funds into the race.
Tedisco has portrayed himself as raising most of his funds himself and has branded Murphy as being backed by liberal national Democrats.
“Nancy Pelosi is going to work as hard as she possibly can to put her minions in there,” Tedisco said on Wednesday.
But he’s getting help from the national party, too. The National Republican Congressional Committee has paid for several TV ads promoting Tedisco and criticizing Murphy.
And he’s getting a lot of help from at least one conservative political action committee as well.
Last week, the Sacramento, Calif.-based Our Country Deserves Better Committee launched an advertising campaign for Tedisco and released ads slamming Murphy.
The group plans to spend between $125,000 and $225,000 on TV, radio and cable ads in the Albany and New York City media markets to reach district voters, said Kelly Eustis, who lives in Washington County and is involved with the PAC.
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