If there is any surprise surrounding a suddenly tight race for the 26th Congressional District, most analysts point to a familiar name -- Jack Davis.
Tea party candidate Davis' strong 23 percent showing is the reason Republican Jane L. Corwin leads Democrat Kathleen C. Hochul by the slim margin of 36 to 31 percent, according to a new Siena College poll released Friday. After three previous attempts to win the seat combined with his promise to spend $3 million of his own money this time, Davis is injecting a new dynamic into a race once thought to be a sure thing for Corwin.
"Clearly, he is hurting Corwin more than Hochul," poll spokesman Steven Greenberg said of Davis.
And Greenberg believes Davis will continue to prove a factor.
"He is different from traditional third-party candidates who usually have very little resources," he said. "Here, we're talking about a third-party candidate with huge resources and who has run in the district three times before."
It was obvious Friday that Davis was having an effect as the Corwin camp was suddenly firing away at the Clarence resident who built a fortune running a successful heating element company in Newstead. Corwin aides lashed out at the Friday revelation in The Buffalo News that he will caucus with the GOP should he win the election, pointing to several instances of Democratic support over the time he ran on the Democratic line in 2004, 2006 and 2008.
"If Jack Davis thinks he's a conservative Republican after running for Congress three times as a Democrat, helping Nancy Pelosi become speaker and endorsing Barack Obama for president, that's not just a flip-flop, it's bizarre," Corwin spokesman Matthew Harakal said. "We've seen this nonsense for the last seven years -- say and spend anything to get elected, regardless of the truth."
The spokesman also dismissed the optimism flowing from the Hochul camp by pointing to the significant drop-off in Erie County support -- 37 percent in the new poll to her near 80 percent vote total in her 2010 re-election as county clerk.
"We said all along this would be a close race," Harakal said. "[Davis] is going to continue to pick up votes, but I don't see where Kathy Hochul thinks she's going to pick up votes."
Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy also took aim at Davis, hinting that voters will be reminded about Davis' past support of Democratic positions during the remainder of the campaign.
"As the race continues and people are reminded about what Jack has done in the past, people will remember," Langworthy said.
Davis and Hochul both hailed the poll results as good news, with Davis spokesman Curtis W. Ellis pointing out the tea party candidate is beholden to neither Democrat Nancy Pelosi nor Republican John Boehner -- two partisan figures in the House of Representatives.
"We're gaining on everyone, we're doing it without support from the two political parties and despite all their influence," Ellis said.
Hochul spokesman Fabien Levy, meanwhile, turned the focus back to the Democratic candidate. He pointed to poll results showing that while 26th District voters favor rescinding the new federal health care legislation passed last summer, they also reject new Republican proposals to replace Medicare with a voucher system based on private insurance.
"Voters are rejecting Jane Corwin's support of the Republican budget that would decimate Medicare and give tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans," Levy said. "Kathy Hochul is the only candidate in the race who will fight to protect Medicare, [and] fight to cut taxes on middle-class families and small business."
Greenberg said the poll shows Hochul voters supporting the Democratic position and Corwin voters supporting the Republican positions.
"Davis voters, however, like the district overall, support the Republicans on health care and the Democrats on entitlements and taxes," he added.
Overall, the poll found only 9 percent undecided or with no opinion, while Green Party candidate Ian Murphy polled 1 percent.
Siena also found the two major party candidates running virtually even in Erie County, with Corwin leading in the rest of the district. Greenberg noted that Davis is gaining support in Niagara County, pointing to his tea party line on the ballot and the familiarity stemming from his fourth congressional candidacy.
"He's actually well-known in the district -- better than Hochul or Corwin," Greenberg said. "That is also an anomaly."
Nobody in either camp took issue with the Siena results, with several sources in both campaigns indicating they have obtained similar results.
One source said Hochul is citing the close numbers in efforts to pry new money out of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the panel headed by Rep. Steve Israel of Long Island and charged with electing more Democrats to the House.
"The question is: Does this push the DCCC to get more involved?" Greenberg asked.
Josh Schwerin, a DCCC spokesman, did not return a call seeking comment.