ALBANY—A new Siena College poll shows front-runner Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava leading the race to replace John McHugh in Congress by 7 points and, at 16 percent, portrays a strong showing for the Conservative Party's candidate.
An accountant, Doug Hoffman was passed over for the Republican nomination in favor of Scozzafava. He was nominated by the Conservative Party, and has been relentlessly attacking Scozzafava in print and on air, winning the endorsements of several Washington-based PACs.
The poll shows Hoffman is a palpable problem for the widely known Scozzafava (she's the only one in the group who has held elected office), thus offering a path to victory for Bill Owens, the lawyer that Democrats have nominated. Hoffman has released polls showing this to be the case, but the Siena Poll (of 622 registered voters) is the first independent polling on the race.
"Clearly, the presence of a third candidate—Conservative Doug Hoffman—who is attracting the support of 16 percent of voters points to the fact that the winner of the race will likely not win with a majority of the votes cast, but rather a plurality," said Steve Greenberg, a Siena Poll spokesman. "This is a wide open race. One in five voters is currently undecided. Add to that the fact that one-third of Scozzafava's current supporters and one-quarter of Owens' current supporters say they are not very certain of their choice and that they very well may change their minds between now and Election Day."
The poll found that in addition to 16 percent for Hoffman, 35 percent of the registered voters surveyed said they would vote for Scozzafava, compared to 28 percent for Owens.
Scozzafava has not yet released any advertisements (in a preemptive reaction to the poll, her campaign spokesman insisted they would begin soon). Owens, who was not widely known when he was picked by Democratic leaders to carry the party flag, has two on the air.
Voters said they were most concerned about the economy (34 percent) and health care (30 percent) in the race; in my conversations with the candidates Scozzafava has had the clearest position on health care, but Owens is trying to tailor himself as someone who created 2,000 jobs in the district. The poll found that Owens has an edge on health care, while Scozzafava has an edge on economic issues.
About one in five voters is still undecided. The election will be held Nov. 3.