The Republicans have had a poor run in upstate New York special elections during the past election cycle, and the new one being held later this month (May 24th) has just returned closer-than-expected results in the first public poll. Siena College (April 26-27; 484 likely NY-26 special election voters), located north of Albany, NY, and which conducts political polling on a regular basis, shows Republican Assemblywoman Jane Corwin with only a 5-point lead over Democratic nominee Kathy Hochul (36-31% percent. But, the bigger story is the performance of Independent Jack Davis who captures 23 percent. Davis is running under the misleading party label that he simply lists as “Tea.”
Jack Davis is a wealthy businessman who has run for Congress three times as a Democrat. He started campaigning in 2004 when he held incumbent Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-NY-26) to a 49-39 percent win. He tried again in 2006 and scored his best performance, coming within four points of Reynolds, 48-52 percent, and hastening the congressman’s decision not to seek re-election in 2008. With a contested Democratic Party fight for the open seat primary, Davis lost badly in a multi-candidate race to attorney Alice Kryzan, who subsequently failed in the general election as businessman Christopher Lee won the seat.
It may be Davis’ victory in the courtroom that best defines his political career, however. The frequent candidate challenged the so-called “millionaires’ amendment” in the 2002 McCain-Feingold law, and was victorious in removing the provision from the federal statute. The millionaires’ amendment allowed a candidate to raise contributions in amounts triple the federal individual limits if a congressional race opponent spent $350,000 of his or her own money. Davis, a multi-millionaire who has spent a total of $7.43 million in personal funds over his three campaigns, argued that such an amendment is unconstitutional. The courts agreed.
Now in a special election after Rep. Lee resigned to avoid making public a personal scandal and knowing that he would never be chosen by Democratic Party leaders as their nominee, Davis entered the race via petition signature as an Independent. In New York, an Independent can describe themselves with a label on the ballot, and Davis chose the word “Tea.” Obviously, this was done to make him an attractive option to Tea Party voters, a group that could make a difference in a special election for this district. His move is disingenuous, however, since Davis has run from the left in his previous campaigns.
Vowing to avoid the divisiveness that cost the party dearly in the previous special elections, the Republicans and Conservatives both endorsed Assemblywoman Corwin even before Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) officially scheduled the special election. But now Davis is apparently causing another dicey three-way race.
Can Jack Davis confuse enough voters with his “Tea” label to bring Jane Corwin down? While his better-than-expected showing in the first poll is certainly a nuisance to, and will undoubtedly cause a strategy shift for Corwin, enough time remains to dispel his candidacy and unite the right-of-center base. Assemblywoman Corwin is still in the driver’s seat for the May 24th special election and she remains the favorite to hold this seat in the Republican column.
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