Last summer's efforts by State Senate Democrats to earn a minor party ballot line for one of their own -- incumbent William T. Stachowski -- may be coming back to haunt them.
A new Siena College poll shows Republican Jack F. Quinn III and Democrat Timothy M. Kennedy virtually tied as Stachowski siphons significant votes from Kennedy in the normally solid Democratic district. Though Stachowski lost the Sept. 14 Democratic primary to Kennedy by a substantial margin, the poll indicates that his longevity and name recognition are attracting 12 percent of the voters on the Independence and Working Family lines, enough to peg the race at 42 percent for Quinn and 39 percent for Kennedy.
"It certainly does not help the Democratic candidate to have [another] identifiable Democrat on the ballot in addition to having a Republican opponent," said Steven Greenberg, spokesman for Siena Research Institute.
The election is seen as one of the most crucial in New York State this year, since control of the 62-member Senate could turn on its outcome. And if the GOP fails to regain a majority this year after losing it in 2008 for the first time in 75 years, most observers say, Democratic control of the reapportionment process could make New York Republicans an almost endangered species.
The Buffalo News reported in July that Senate Democrats were instrumental in overturning a local Independence Party endorsement for Kennedy as they worked to shore up Stachowski, a 29-year incumbent. As a result, state Independence leaders -- with close ties to the Senate majority -- overruled the local nod for Kennedy and went with Stachowski.
But Stachowski rejects the idea that his presence on the top minor party line is drawing votes from Kennedy since he was already on the ballot as the Working Families candidate.
"So that would not be accurate," he said of observations that his Independence candidacy could endanger the seat for Democrats -- and Democratic control of the Senate.
But he did note that Kennedy also may have been aware of the possibility.
"I would imagine that would be something Mr. Kennedy would have thought about since he thought about everything else," Stachowski said.
Stachowski said he is campaigning to some extent. "I'm on the Working Families line, and once in a while, I'm out and about," he said, adding that he has had no contact with Independence leaders.
Greenberg called the 70 percent disapproval rating in the poll for Stachowski "virtually unprecedented," worse than even that of Gov. David A. Paterson at his lowest point in the polls.
"A 70 percent unfavorable rating for an individual is absolutely breathtaking," he said, "particularly in the absence of a scandal or some crime committed."
Stachowski said the low rating results from constant negativity toward him in The Buffalo News and electronic media.
"I don't think anyone has been beat up by the local media like I have for the past two years," he said.
Meanwhile, Greenberg said Quinn is showing remarkable strength in a district with about 60,000 more Democrats than Republicans, noting that Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl P. Paladino also is running strong in the district.
"The 58th Senate District tells a 'man bites dog' story," he said in a statement. "Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2 to 1; however, overwhelmingly favorable Paladino has a better than 2-to-1 lead over unfavorable Cuomo. This Democratic district says thumbs-up to the 'tea party' and thumbs-down to Obama. Fewer than 1 in 4 voters want to see Democrats increase their majority in the Senate."
Democratic enrollment in the district -- which includes South Buffalo, Cheektowaga, West Seneca, Lackawanna, Hamburg and Eden -- is helping to keep the race tight, the poll found. The poll conducted last week of 462 likely voters in the district has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.6 percentage points.
More than one-fourth of those polled cited job creation as the most important issue, followed by government reform of Albany and the high level of state taxes.
Quinn, a Republican assemblyman, is running well among Republicans -- about three-quarters back him -- while Kennedy's support among fellow Democrats stands at 54 percent. The poll said that most of Stachowski's support comes from Democrats.
The Siena poll also looked at four State Senate races across New York for the survey released Monday. In a race for a seat that represents parts of Westchester, Dutchess and Putnam counties, Paladino had a favorable rating of 36 percent among respondents. But in the Buffalo area's 58th District, Paladino is viewed favorably by 62 percent, while Andrew M. Cuomo, his Democratic opponent in the governor's race, was viewed unfavorably by 61 percent of respondents, including 49 percent of Democrats.
Asked about the governor's race, likely voters in the district gave Paladino a lead of 65 percent to 30 percent over Cuomo. Fifty-five percent of those polled in the district also have a favorable view of the tea party movement. Quinn has a 30-point lead among those who back tea party efforts, while Kennedy has a 31-point lead among tea party opponents.
Voters in the Senate district are especially pessimistic: 86 percent say the state is heading in the wrong direction, and 53 percent give an unfavorable rating to President Obama.
In asking voters to choose among Quinn, Kennedy and Stachowski, the Siena poll noted the party lines on which each is running in November. But the poll appears to have left out the line for the Taxpayers Party, which also has backed Quinn.
What's more, 76 percent of the district's likely voters have a negative view of the legislative body that Quinn and Kennedy are trying to join -- the Senate. Twenty-two percent want the Democrats to extend their two-year control of the Senate, while 36 percent said they want a return to power by Republicans. Thirty-eight percent said that it should remain closely divided.
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com