Will NY26 be a 2012 bellwether?

The last time we reported on the upcoming special election in western New York’s 26th congressional district, things were already pretty much a mess, but Republican Jane Corwin seemed to be holding on to a thin, but comfortable lead. But with the election only a couple of weeks away, at least one sampling has the race pretty much within the margins and both sides are mobilizing.

Republicans in New York may again face defeat in safe district in a special election. The 26th District, formerly held by “Craigslist Congressman” Christopher Lee, will be filled by a special election later this month.

Three candidates have substantial support in polling. Republican Jane Corwin, Democrat Kathleen Hochul and Jack Davis, who is running as a Tea Party candidate.

The new wrinkle in the story seems to be some recent polling into the issues concerning district voters, and one thing on their mind is apparently the Ryan budget plan, specifically the proposed changes to Medicare which are being floated.

A recent Siena College poll of likely voters, for example, indicated that Ms. Corwin and Ms. Hochul are in a tight race. Ms. Corwin leads by only five points, within the poll’s margin of error.

The poll found that 59 percent of respondents said they opposed reining in federal spending by cutting entitlement programs like Medicare. Only 38 percent said they supported such spending cuts to trim the deficit.

Marsha Sherris, 61, a real estate broker in the district, seems to epitomize the challenge for Ms. Corwin. A registered Republican, Ms. Sherris said that she was troubled about the Republican Medicare proposal and that it might ultimately influence her vote in the special election.

“Maybe I would go Democrat,” Ms. Sherris said on Main Street in Williamsville. “We have to worry about the seniors. They are the ones who supported this country all this time.”

Well, that was probably predictable, as we have discussed here before. Education on entitlement reform is an uphill battle and everyone knew it represented potential danger for swing state Republicans. But if this normally safe, R+6 district goes blue, it could sound an alarm for the GOP in Washington.

But it’s also not clear if the Medicare issue is really the main driving factor in the closeness of the race. When I first brought this race to your attention here back in March, we noted that the strange mix of candidates was already having a pronounced effect on the race. Corwin and her Democratic opponent, Ms. Hochul, are not the only players here, and neither of them are anywhere near getting a clear majority.

The main reason is Jack Davis, curiously running on the Tea Party line and pulling more than 1/5 of the vote, though he seems to be drawing from both of the major candidates. I say “curiously” because even back in March the only active, established Tea Party group we could locate in the area, Tea New York, wasn’t even considering Davis. (Not surprising since he has run for office twice as a Democrat and has ties to the Working Families Party.) They were, at the time, considering both Corwin and David Bellavia, who had been lobbying for the NY Conservative Party line. In the end, the Conservative Party went with Corwin and then Tea New York voted on April 13th to endorse Corwin also.

Well, Corwin took notice this week and launched her first ad taking direct aim at Davis.

The ad is her first since a public poll showed Corwin leading Democrat Kathy Hochul by just 5 points, 36 percent to 31 percent. Her lead would be far larger without the presence of Davis, a Congressional candidate with a history of switching parties who will appear on the May 24 ballot under the “Tea Party” line. Davis pulled 23 percent in the poll.

“Davis was a handpicked candidate of Nancy Pelosi, and said he was proud to help her become Speaker,” says the narrator in the new ad. “Davis took thousands of dollars from Barack Obama and even endorsed his campaign for president.”

“Democrat Jack Davis,” the narrator continued. “He just can’t be trusted.”

The ad comes the same day Roll Call reported that a host of conservative outside groups are working to help Corwin hold the 26th district seat, which was previously held by Rep. Chris Lee (R).

Following the last link, we find that American Crossroads is considering jumping into this race on Corwin’s behalf with a major ad buy, but I don’t see any final confirmation of that yet. But barring some major change on the ground out here, this one looks like it’s going to come down to the wire. No matter the real cause, though, if the GOP manages to lose this seat it may send some minor shock waves through a movement which has been riding high since November and looking forward to similar gains in 2012.