Recently the Saratoga County Republican Committee had a poll conducted by Zogby International showing that Sweeney has a 2-1 lead over the presumed Democratic challenger Kirsten Gillibrand. (The other two long-shot Democratic candidates, Morris Guller and Edwin Pell were never included in the poll, but perhaps it would have been quite interesting to see how they would have faired up to Sweeney in comparison to Gillibrand)
Of course, the poll did not make me happy - in fact, I was quite angry, mad and depressed for an entire day after hearing Sweeney had a 2-1 lead over Gillibrand. Nobody knows how much I want to see the "Miami Mob Boss" gone and history! Regardless, I happen to disagree with other Kossiacs about the poll being skewed. I spent a couple of hours pondering over the data and UNFORTUNATELY for the most part it was quite accurate. The Zogby poll shows Spitzer with about a 70% approval rating in the 20th District, and Hillary with about a 51% approval, which surely wouldn't have been this high if it contained a Republican bias. (Hillary was actually defeated by 18% in this district in 2000) Saratoga County, which comprised 31% of the poll's respondants, in fact, contrary to some claims, was not oversampled, as according the State Board of Elections website, 141,316 out of 456,144 voters, or 31% of the district's residents reside there.
One of the most depressing aspects of the poll, however, was seeing that Sweeney was favored over Gillibrand by about 24% of Democrats, almost a quater of the Democratic base (with about another quarter of the Democratic base undecided). This surely is not good. With such a huge Republican registration and party ID advantage in the 20th district of New York, in order for a Democratic candidate to win we need the exact opposite to happen - we need about a quarter of self-identified Republicans to crossover and vote for the Democratic candidate, along with about 60-70% of independent and third party voters. The best indication of a district's political lean is party ID, not registration, as registration figures often don't necessarily reflect the current political leanings of an area (you have to keep in mind, there are still dozens of "Democratic" districts throughout the South which haven't voted Democratic in federal elections since the Reagan era). According the Zogby poll, 49% of respondents indentify themselves as Republicans, 31% indentify themeselves as Democrats, and 20% indentify themselves as Independents. Essentially, if Sweeney simply just holds down the Republican base, he wins.
For the most part, it is fair to say that Mrs. Gillibrand has her work cut out for her. Let's not deny the truth. If we want to defeat Sweeney, we as progressives must be open-minded and should be able to face the fact that we are quite behind right now, and must work quickly to improve the situation. Let's turn a negative into a positive and make this poll something which energizes us. Perhaps this poll could be a blessing in disguise - if it were never conducted or released we surely wouldn't know how much work we needed to do right now to succeed this November.
Here, however, are some ways I think that Gillibrand can make inroads into the Republican base and solidify her Democratic base...
1.) Gillibrand must get some name recognition SOON! - One of the major advantages Sweeney has over Gillibrand is just simply the fact that everybody knows who he is, regardless of whether they love him or they hate him. Name recongnition, in fact, can be enough for somebody to pull down the lever for a particular candidate at the ballot box - people are almost always more likely to vote for someone who they are familiar with more than somebody who they know nothing about. So far, only 32% of respondents of the poll have even heard of Gillibrand. To a great degree, I think her campaign is making a major mistake by not combating Sweeney's current extensive advertising program. (And she has the money to do it - last time I checked, the Gillibrand campaign has about $700,000 in the bank) In fact, this morning I heard five or six Sweeney ads! It seems quite obvious that what Sweeney is doing right now through his advertising is framing - he will bombard the airwaves with a series of positive ads painting himself as this "humble, blue collar, son of a factory worker from Troy" probably followed by a series of attack ads labeling Gillibrand as an "elitist trial lawyer from New York City." We can't let the Sweeney campaign try to frame the election. Gillibrand must introduce herself to the public soon soon that people are able to see her in a positive light, before the Sweeney crew does it for her in a negative manner. As we all know, in politics, first impressions are everything.
One thing I did find fascinating though, is that the poll showed Gillibrand and Sweeney running very close in Delaware County, one of the biggest bastions of Republicanism in the state. Bush, in fact did better in Delaware county than most other counties in the 20th District in 2004, receiving 56% to Kerry's 41%. (By contrast, district-wide Bush received 53% to Kerry's 46%) So, why, as we may all ask, is Gillibrand doing so much in better in Delaware County than in most other counties of the district, despite the county's very heavy Republican lean? NAME RECOGNITION. The poll shows Gillibrand is more well-known in Delaware County than any other county in the district. She has also made many more trips there than to most other counties in our district. Perhaps all those trips are paying off. Now she needs to become more well-known in the northern, more heavily populated portions of the district (Saratoga, Warren, and Washington Counties). And despite what people say about the northern portion of the district being a "black hole" for Democrats because the registration figures show the biggest gap between Republican and Democratic enrollment up here, Jean Bordewich actually won Warren and Washington Counties and came close to winning Saratoga in 1998. Dairy farmer Steve James also did well up here in 1996 against Sweeney's predecessor, the infamous Gerry Solomon.
2.) Gillibrand must cultivate more of a populist image - You know that Sweeney and his crew are bound to paint Gillibrand as an "elitist" because she has spent much of her professional career working in New York City and she comes from a wealthy background. Currently Sweeney has a large lead with the so-called "NASCAR Dads" and "Wal-Mart shoppers." I know this won't be easy, but Gillibrand must figure out how she can appeal to the NASCAR crowd and the Wal-Mart crowd. She must also be able to connect with "rural, small-town America," as this demographic comprises much of the 20th District. I personally would love to see her deploy a strategy attacking Sweeney for his ties to corporations such as Pfizer and Exxon-Mobil. I personally think that "economic populism" is a great way we can win over many Republican-leaning voters in the Adirondacks and Catskills.
3.) Gillibrand must do a better job of exposing Sweeney's close ties to Bush - Why are a quarter of Democrats about ready to cast their ballot for a man who in the past made his close ties to Bush the centerpiece of his campaigns? Maybe perhaps because they are unaware of just how close Sweeney REALLY IS to Bush. All those ads falsely portraying Sweeney as an "independent" really seem to be paying off. And I've heard from several sources that Gillibrand has decided to take a somewhat neutral stance on Bush's policies along with Bush's close ties to Sweeney in an effort not to offend a certain segment of voters. With Bush's approval numbers so abysmal here in Upstate New York, any candidate would be very foolish not to attack another candidates close ties to the president! SurveyUSA puts Bush's approval ratings at 29% in Upstate New York. I don't know who Gillibrand thinks she may offend, but the real Bush Lovers will almost NEVER vote for a Democrat in a Congressional Election. And that's even if there are any Bush lovers left by this November. It's time to pander to the majority, not the minority.
4.) Gillibrand must take a much stronger stance against the Iraq War - Most polls currently show that the Iraq War is the biggest issue on voters' minds right now. Personally, I think Gillibrand assumes that being a female and a Democrat she must look "hawkish" to many of these rural, small-town, Republican-leaning voters. However, as I previously discussed, I think there are other ways she can look "hawkish" without being behind this ridiculous war. All she needs to do is paint Sweeney as weak on Homeland Security, and trust me, that isn't too hard to do considering all the times he's voted to slash social security funding. Personally I was hoping that more of Edwin Pell, Morris Guller, and even libertarian Eric Sundwall's press releases would make it to the press so they could add to the discussion and hopefully drag the Gillibrand camapaign in the right direction. There are many Democrats (like myself), along with independents, and even some moderate Republicans in this district who are fed up with this useless war for oil and want to see it ended IMMEDIATELY. Nation-wide the polls show that now the majority of Americans believe the war in Iraq was an incredible mistake, and I'm almost positive that the number is even higher here in Upstate New York. Right now, Gillibrand has the perfect opportunity to be the hero and distinguish herself differently from Sweeney on the biggest issue of the day, but yet still she refuses to change her stance on this issue no matter how much and how hard progressive activists beg her. Personally I think Gillibrand taking a strong stance against the war would be a perfect way to get all the disaffected Republicans in this district to crossover and vote Democratic. But where's the incentive? Let's not just worry about getting Republicans to vote for us - how do we even hold down the entire Democratic base? Like the old saying from the movie Wag The Dog, people aren't going to "change horses in midstream" unless the opponent of the incumbent gives them a compelling reason to do so. Gillibrand taking a similar stance to Sweeney on the war I think in the end will be a major mistake. I think there are many disaffected Republicans and even lots of the turncoat "Sweeney Democrats" would love to see the war ended, but feel no compelling real to throw Representative Sweeney out because the way the look at things, "I've got two candidates who both do not favor immediate withdrawl from Iraq, so at least I'll vote for the one (Sweeney) who has the ability to bring home the pork because of his powerful position on the House Appropriations Committee." I really believe that Gillibrand must change her stance on the war if we want to attract more Republicans, and independents, as well as solidify the Democratic base this November.