If there were any doubt that politics as usual is out the window this fall, it is confirmed by the latest polls from New York, one of the most reliable Democratic strongholds in the country. New York Democrats have fielded an attractive and popular candidate for governor, Andrew Cuomo, while the state’s Republicans, who are in complete disarray, have put up a wacky though wealthy gadfly to oppose him. And of the two incumbent Democratic senators up for re-election, the one who is most vulnerable to a challenge, Kirsten Gillibrand, has drawn a lackluster opponent. But a funny thing is happening on the way to the Democrats’ November landslide. The polls are showing that the leads held by both Cuomo and Gillibrand are shrinking to the point where it is conceivable that both races could be competitive.
In the governor’s race, both Rasmussen and Quinnipiac show the gap between Cuomo and Carl Paladino to be narrowing. Quinnipiac showed Paladino trailing Cuomo by only six points among likely voters, while Rasmussen reported the Republican down by 16 points. In their previous polls tracking this matchup, the margins were respectively 30- and 29-point leads for Cuomo.
Over at the New York Times, analyst Nate Silver had claimed that these numbers were flawed because they didn’t add Conservative Party candidate Rick Lazio to the mix. But even he admits that the Quinnipiac poll is causing him to reconsider his assumptions about this race. While a more accurate survey would have mentioned Lazio, Silver’s assumption that many New Yorkers would stick with the man who lost the Republican primary last week in a historic landslide despite the backing of almost the entire Republican state establishment is absurd. That the Conservatives, whose original purpose was to hold the state’s liberal Republican party establishment accountable for ignoring the wishes of rank-and-file Republicans, would choose to torpedo a Conservative insurgent like Paladino by sticking with the dead-in-the-water Lazio speaks volumes about their own irrelevance. Far from sabotaging Paladino, as Silver seems to think a Lazio candidacy would, all it might accomplish is to lose the Conservatives their place on the state ballot for the next four years, something that would happen if Lazio got fewer than 50,000 votes in November.
Meanwhile, just as astounding is the Rasmussen poll showing Republican Joseph DioGuardi trailing Gillibrand by only 10 points. Previous surveys had Gillibrand up by anywhere from 15 to 25 points. DioGuardi has little name recognition and even less money. But Gillibrand is so weak that even the former Westchester congressman now must be given a chance, albeit a slim one, to knock her off.
But though liberal writers like Silver are still trying to rationalize the tsunami of voter discontent that is giving a Tea Party favorite like Paladino and a fiscal conservative like DioGuardi a chance, what is happening can no longer be ignored. Both Cuomo and Gillibrand must still be considered strong favorites, but if Republicans are surging in a state like New York, this midterm election may turn out far worse than imagined for the Democrats and the liberal agenda pursued by President Obama. Demonizing the Tea Party and publicizing opposition research about a loose cannon like Paladino may seem like an effective way to stem the GOP tide, but Democrats must understand that the rules have changed. As the New York polls indicate, voter anger about spending, entitlements, and taxes have transformed 2010 from an ordinary midterm correction to what may turn out to be a Republican tidal wave.