Talk of potential upsets by two underdog candidates is circulating in the race for the 60th Senate District, a Western New York battleground seen by some as pivotal in the war for control of Albany’s upper house.
Erie County Clerk Chris Jacobs, the establishment-backed Republican who is seen by many political observers as the favorite to go on to win the general election, has been relatively quiet compared to the last primary election cycle. While there have been radio advertisements and direct mailers, it does not compare to the deluge of television and radio buys and mailers that flooded the district ahead of the 2014 primary.
But Jacobs’ opponent, Kevin Stocker, who upset then-state Sen. Mark Grisanti in the 2014 Republican primary, is claiming that he has internal polling that shows him with a significant lead over the party favorite. Stocker pointed to the radio ads and mailers attacking him as evidence of high anxiety in Republican headquarters.
“If I had to guess, conservatively, I’m going to win by 10 points,” Stocker told City & State on Monday.
Stocker said he could not forward the polling to City & State because he himself doesn’t get written reports, but rather is told his numbers after phone polling has been completed on a particular day. However, Stocker did say that he used the same methods in 2014 and they showed him beating Grisanti, giving him confidence that the numbers are accurate again.
Erie County Republican Committee Chairman Nick Langworthy brushed off Stocker’s claims, describing the numbers being touted by his camp as unscientific push polls that give no reliable indication on where the race stands.
“It’s garbage,” Langworthy said. “It’s not polling.”
Langworthy declined to describe any internal polling the county committee had done, but said he is confident about the primary.
“Everything is trending in the right direction,” he said.
Craig Turner, a Jacobs spokesman, said the campaign has been focused on getting out and knocking on doors to make sure people show up and vote.
“Tomorrow will be the only poll that matters,” Turner said Monday.
As first noted on Democratic insider Ken Kruly’s blog, political observers have been speculating that the GOP primary race could end in an upset. That notion was also being pushed by several Democrats and their staffers last week.
After an event where he endorsed the Erie County Democratic Committee’s chosen candidate, Amber Small, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said he was getting the sense the Republicans were nervous about the primary.
“I’m hearing it’s neck-and-neck between Chris Jacobs and Kevin Stocker,” he said.
A staffer for another Western New York Democrat, who would only speak to City & State on background, also claimed that the GOP is growing anxious about its primary.
Meanwhile, several Republicans, who would only speak on background, made similar claims about Small, the party-backed Democrat, and her campaign to win the party line against longtime party stalwart Al Coppola.
One Republican source who spoke to City & State had been told that Coppola was up by a few points in internal polling as recently as two weeks ago.
“She seems to be presuming a victory, and I don’t think she should be,” the source said. “She should be in full blown panic mode.”
Coppola did not return a call from City & State seeking information on the poll Monday.
The Small camp is downplaying the validity of any rumors floating around about a possible upset in the Democratic primary.
Matt Tighe, Small’s campaign manager, said the response to the campaign during door to door visits has been enthusiastic. Additionally, Small has continued to pick up endorsements, with a number of labor groups giving her their stamp of approval in recent weeks.
“I’d say from the thousands of door knocks and phone calls we’ve completed in the last couple of weeks, we’re very confident that a strong turnout will work in our favor tomorrow,” Tighe said when reached by phone Monday.
The primary results could play a huge role in the involvement of the state committees and other groups from outside the district in the general election. In the case of an upset in either race, the parties may cut their losses and direct resources to other important races on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley. However, if the county party-supported candidates end up facing off in the general election, the district could again draw big money.