ALBANY – Raising much-needed money to mount a serious campaign against incumbent State Sen. Mark J. Grisanti will become even more difficult for Democrat Michael L. Amodeo following release of a poll Monday showing him badly trailing the Buffalo Republican.
The Siena College poll found that 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 M. Swanick, the former chairman of the 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 campaign Swanick is running, based on his new – and lackluster – fundraising and spending report filed late Friday with the state Board of Elections, but pollsters said they believe that Swanick’s presence is helping Grisanti.
Gregory L. Davis, an 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 P. Addabbo Jr., 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 W. 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 important pieces of legislation approved. He noted that Grisanti, as well as Libous himself, used Cuomo’s image in recent campaign ads on television – a move that 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 possibly backing other Senate Democrats or Republicans, saying that 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, in which Niagara County was carved out of it and several towns south of Buffalo were plunked in. The new district is 2-to-1 Democratic over Republican in 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. He has been politically cozy with Cuomo, 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 that 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. Swanick got 30 percent rating, and Amodeo trails with 25 percent, the poll found.
In the 60th, Obama leads Romney, 54 percent to 40 percent, a level that ordinarily would be seen as a benefit to a challenger such as Amodeo.
<INLINENOTE>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.</INLINENOTE>On the fundraising side, Senate Republicans last week pumped $100,000 into Grisanti’s campaign. With the Democratic enrollment advantage in the district and local Democrats vowing to mount a serious get-out-the-vote effort for Amodeo on Election Day, Libous insisted Monday that 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 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 Friday showed him with $50,000 on hand. He raised only $3,600 in the last several weeks, but his overall balance was pumped up by the $100,000 from Senate Republicans. Two weeks earlier, the GOP gave Grisanti $78,000.
The $100,000 – the largest donation by Senate Republicans to one of their own in the last 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.
In addition, Swanick still lists the $35,000 in liabilities – to himself – from loans he provided the campaign before the primary. His campaign listed $600 in expenses in the last three weeks, though the details were not listed on the Board of Elections website. He reported $12,807 on hand.