NY GOP Senate Primary becomes competitive. Will it matter in November?

Before the NY State Republican Convention (June 1 – 3), former Rep.

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Before the NY State Republican Convention (June 1 – 3), former Rep. Joe DioGuardi has had a substantial lead over his largely unknown competitors: Bruce Blakeman and David Malpass. With the New York State Conservative Party’s backing, DioGuardi enjoyed double digit leads in a May Marist poll and a June Sienna poll. However, after the NY State Republican Committee handed Blakeman their endorsement, he has rocketed ahead of DioGuardi to become the Republican frontrunner.

The latest Quinnipiac poll has Blakeman with a narrow 3-point lead over his primary competition. What a difference a convention makes. However, DioGuardi is not out. He has hit the streets with the intention of accumulating enough signatures to make it on the September 14th primary ballot.

The GOP primary competition could be considered academic; New York’s Senate race against incumbent Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is not considered competitive. However, the junior senator from New York has grounds for concern. Gillibrand has never polled above 50 percent; a troubling fact given that her potential opponents are relatively anonymous.

The same Quinnipiac poll that shows Blakeman ahead of DioGuardi also showed that 87 percent of respondents did not know enough about him to formulate an opinion. Gillibrand’s favorability rating fell from 42 percent in May to 37 percent in June, with almost 40 percent responding that they don’t know enough about her either.

In February, a Marist poll had Gillibrand losing in a race against former Governor George Pataki and leading Blakeman by 30 points (58 – 28 percent). That kind of negative momentum should be disconcerting for the Senator.

Conventional wisdom suggests that Gillibrand can coast through the summer while her relatively unknown rivals squabble for attention. After the primary, New York’s heavily lopsided Democratic Party affiliation will take care of the rest. However, Gillibrand has never won a state-wide election, and 2010 is no year to run a coronation race.

Martha Coakley’s fatal decision to lay low until weeks before the January special election in Massachusetts will not be repeated in New York. Gillibrand will have to campaign, and that could bring her down to Earth long enough to bring her approval rating down even further from its current lackluster 44 percent. If she is in the 30s by October, she will be in real trouble.

New York hasn’t sent a Republican senator to Washington since Al D’Amato lost his bid for reelection in 1998. For the moment, this is not a competitive race, but it is too early to write it off yet as a lock for the Democrats. After the GOP primary in September, expect this race to heat up significantly.Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. Email him at nrothman@campaignsandelections.com

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