ALBANY – Raising much-needed money to mount a serious campaign against incumbent Sen. Mark Grisanti will become even more difficult for Democrat Michael Amodeo following release of a poll today showing him badly trailing the Buffalo Republican.
The Siena College poll found 47 percent of likely voters in the Erie County district support Grisanti, while Amodeo, a Hamburg lawyer, is far behind with just 23 percent.
The presence of other challengers in the race is having a clear effect: Charles Swanick, the former chairman of the Erie County Legislature who lost the Democratic primary to Amodeo but is still in the race on the Conservative Party line, was supported by 17 percent of voters. It is uncertain how much of a real campaign Swanick is running, based on his new – and lackluster – fundraising and spending report filed late Friday with the state elections board, but pollsters said they believe Swanick’s presence is helping Grisanti.
Gregory Davis, a political unknown attorney running on the Working Families Party line, drew 6 percent.
The poll’s release came as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who has been criticized by some Democrats for being too cozy with Senate Republicans, endorsed his first Senate Democrat – an incumbent lawmaker from Queens. But Republicans said the governor’s move, which they insisted was not a surprise since the lawmaker, Joseph Addabbo, backed Cuomo’s plan legalizing gay marriage rights last year, could now give the governor some political breathing room to endorse some Senate Republicans, such as Grisanti.
“It could,’’ acknowledged the Senate’s deputy majority leader, Thomas Libous, a Binghamton Republican.
Libous said the governor has already offered “somewhat of an endorsement” of Grisanti through local appearances during the year and by helping him to get approved important pieces of legislation. He noted Grisanti, as well as Libous himself, used Cuomo’s image in recent campaign television ads – a move Cuomo did not protest.
“I’m not certain the old-fashioned, ‘I support Joe Jones’ has to be done. There are other ways you can show support … and I think the governor has been supportive of key members of our [GOP] conference, and Mark is one of them,” Libous said.
Cuomo was coy Monday about possible backing of other Senate Democrats or Republicans, saying any other endorsements in the weeks ahead would be made on “a case-by-case” basis.
Grisanti, a former Democrat who turned Republican to run for the seat two years ago, is running in a newly redrawn 60th Senate district – which saw Niagara County carved out of it and several towns south of Buffalo plunked in. The new district is two-to-one Democratic over Republican in terms of voter enrollment and, according to the poll, favors President Obama over Republican Mitt Romney.
Steve Greenberg, the Siena pollster, said the field of candidates is “splitting the anti-Grisanti vote” in the campaign.
Democrats will likely use the poll results to call Swanick a spoiler whose presence is helping Grisanti. Grisanti got backing from 61 percent of Republicans polled in the district, 59 percent of independents and 34 percent of Democrats.
Grisanti has been politically cozy with the Democratic governor, whose popularity is high in the district despite losing all Western New York counties in his election campaign two years ago.
“If Grisanti was opposed by a single candidate, this race might be more interesting since his support falls below 50 percent,” Greenberg said, adding Grisanti “appears to be in a commanding position.”
For Amodeo, name recognition is clearly a problem: the poll found him to be unknown to more than half the likely voters. With little sign, so far, of major Democratic Party money coming into the race to help him, Amodeo’s challenge is how to raise his profile in so little time with not enough funds to launch a serious advertising campaign.
Grisanti has a 59 percent favorability rating among voters. At 25 percent, Amodeo trails the 30 percent favorability ranking given Swanick, the poll found.
In the 60th, Obama leads Romney by 54 percent to 40 percent, a level that, ordinarily, would be seen as a benefit to a challenger like Amodeo.
Grisanti and Amodeo did not return calls.
Nearly one-third of voters in the district said job creation is the single most important issue, double that of education or health care and triple the level for property taxes.
A Senate Democratic spokesman, in a written statement, did not specifically address the poll’s findings for the 60th Senate District. “There remain a half-dozen Republican-held districts in play yet to be publicly polled. With campaigns just beginning in earnest and funding differences greatly reduced, Democrats are well positioned to gain the seats necessary to reclaim the majority,” said Mike Murphy, the Democratic spokesman.
In the response from the Senate Republicans, spokesman Scott Reif used Cuomo’s name twice in two sentences – once to note Amodeo’s opposition to part of Cuomo’s property tax law and the other to note Grisanti’s work with Cuomo to pass a University at Buffalo expansion law last year.
The Cuomo endorsement of Addabbo in Manhattan before the start of today’s Columbus Day parade is certain to give the governor some cover against Democrats upset that he has been too keen on seeing Republicans keep control of the Senate. The governor’s chief gift to the Republicans came this year when he approved a set of new Senate district boundary lines that Democrats say was gerrymandered to help the GOP. The Siena poll Monday found Addabbo in a statistical tie with his GOP challenger.
On the fundraising side, Senate Republicans last week pumped $100,000 into Grisanti’s campaign. With a two-to-one Democratic enrollment edge in the district and local Democrats vowing to mount a serious get-out-the-vote effort for Amodeo on election day, Libous, the Binghamton Republican, insisted Monday the help for Grisanti will not slow despite the new poll showing him with a big lead.
Last week, Amodeo said his new filing with the state Board of Elections would show about $10,000 in the bank; his report, due last Friday, was not listed on the board’s website Monday.
Grisanti’s report on Friday showed him with $50,000 on hand. He raised only $3,600 in the past several weeks, but his overall balance was pumped up by the transfer of $100,000 from the central Senate Republican account in Albany into his Buffalo campaign bank account. The GOP two weeks earlier had given Grisanti $78,000.
The $100,000 – the largest donation by the Senate Republicans to one of their own in the past three weeks – was needed by Grisanti. His campaign shows him spending $160,000 during the brief election window after the primary – all but $10,000 of that on a television ad campaign.
Swanick’s new filing shows hardly any activity. He raised only $2,500 from one source -- an individual living in Virginia. He got $600 from in-kind contributions, mostly for office space in Buffalo. And he still lists the $35,000 in liabilities – to himself – from loans he provided the campaign before the primary. His campaign listed $600 in expenses the past three weeks, though the details were not listed on the election board’s website. He reported $12,807 on hand. He did not return calls for comment today.
Senate Democrats say they want to evidence Amodeo has a serious chance to beat Grisanti before investing money in his campaign. Last week, Senate Democrats reported spending $180,000 on behalf of nine Democratic candidates; Amodeo was not among them.