‘Within striking distance in New York . . . ”
These words come from a New York Republican party press release, so take them with a grain of salt. But with a new independent poll showing McCain just five points behind Democrat Barack Obama in New York State, the idea is not necessarily as unrealistic as it first sounds.
A Siena poll of likely voters, conducted on September 8 and 9, shows Obama with an anemic 46 to 41 percent lead in the state. By contrast, John Kerry won by 19 points in 2004, and just this June, the same poll gave Obama an 18-point lead. McCain has narrowed the gap slightly each month since then.
More striking is Obama’s loss of the 24-point edge he held among women in June, which the Siena poll pinned at just two points last week. More than half of the erosion came before the selection of Sarah Palin.
“There is the Hillary Clinton factor as well,” said Steven Greenberg, who conducted the poll for Siena. “That’s important here in New York.”
The Siena poll also shows a pronounced swing among Jewish voters, who typically comprise up to 12 percent of the statewide vote. The margin of error for this group is large at 11 percent, but the 35-point swing leaves Obama trailing 32 to 54 percent.
McCain’s favorable/unfavorable ratings have improved substantially since June, whereas Obama’s have slightly worsened. Voters prefer Obama overwhelmingly on issues of education and health care, but they rank McCain higher on national security issues and trust in his qualifications more than in Obama’s.
Can McCain play in New York? His allies like to think so, and hope that he will dedicate resources to a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans five-to-three. “McCain’s level of independence does strike a positive note in New York State,” said Jerry Kassar, Brooklyn chairman of the state’s Conservative party, which will be endorsing McCain on Monday.
New York Democrats are doing their part to get McCain elected as well. In addition to the prostitution scandal that forced the resignation of Gov. Elliot Spitzer earlier this year, several among their ranks have received unflattering news coverage this month:
‐ U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangel (D., Manhattan), the chairman of the U.S. House committee that writes the nation’s tax policy, has admitted to dodging his income taxes, failing to report rental income from his resort condo in the Dominican Republic. This week, Roll Call reported that he also misreported the value of a condo he bought in Florida in 2004 on his financial disclosure forms, and then failed to report the $70,000 profit that he made from selling it. Rangel currently holds four rent-controlled apartments in Manhattan — a rare feat for a non-congressman. Democrats have responded to these apparent ethical breaches by closing ranks around Rangel.
‐ Malcolm Smith, the Democratic minority leader of the state Senate, told a group of lobbyists that they must either begin contributing to Senate Democrats now, or be shut out of the Senate if Democrats win a majority there in November. When the lobbyists present complained to reporters about this obvious shakedown attempt, Smith said that his remark had been meant as “entertainment.”
‐ Assemblyman Anthony Seminario (D., Queens) has been charged with taking $500,000 in bribes in connection with his legislative work. Seminaro was charged after an investigation that included an undercover FBI agent posing as a contractor, whom Seminario brought down to the floor of the state assembly.
Local issues may have a very limited effect on the presidential race, but they could create extra burdens for New York’s Democratic party even as it is needed to keep Obama afloat.
McCain may not be able to carry the Empire State and its 31 electoral votes this fall — after all, no Republican has done so since Ronald Reagan’s 1984 landslide over Walter Mondale. But if McCain can force Obama to dedicate any time or resources to defending New York, that alone will improve his chances in swing states with many electoral votes, such as Ohio (20), Minnesota (10), Wisconsin (10), Pennsylvania (21), and Michigan (17).
An expensive ad buy in New York could also give him a shot at neighboring states, said Barry Zeplowitz, a Buffalo-based pollster who is doing polls for McCain in other states. “The metro market obviously impacts New Jersey and even Connecticut,” he said. Although Connecticut does not appear to be competitive, a Quinnipiac poll released yesterday shows McCain trailing by just three points in New Jersey.
Greenberg, who conducted the Siena poll, cautioned against reading too much into its results until other polls confirm it, and promised a future poll to see where the trend-lines go from here. “This was a snapshot coming out of the two conventions and the two vice presidential selections,” he said. “We want to go back in a couple of weeks and look again as the campaign really gets going.”
– David Freddoso is a staff reporter for National Review Online and author of the newly released The Case Against Barack Obama.