Democratic Rep. Bill Owens has a 13-point lead over his Nov. 6 opponent, Republican Matt Doheny, with two months to go until election day, according to an independent poll released this morning.
“By any measure, Congressman Owens enters the final two months of this electoral rematch in a very strong position," Siena pollster Steven Greenberg said in a news release.
Mr. Owens was favored by 49 percent of respondents, while 36 percent said that they would vote for Mr. Doheny. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.9 percent.
The Doheny campaign downplayed the results, and said that their own internal polling showed a tighter race. In a news release, Mr. Doheny noted that the survey took place during the big party for the Democrats in Charlotte, N.C.
"Siena was in the field during the Democratic National Convention, so it's laughable to think three nights of wall-to-wall television coverage didn't have a bearing on these numbers," Mr. Doheny said. "And despite that coverage being overwhelmingly pro-Democrat at all times, my opponent still cannot manage to crack 50 percent."
Here's James Hannaway, Mr. Owens' campaign manager:
We'll continue listening to voters, and focusing on working across the aisle for common sense job creation solutions," he said in an email. "After all, the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day."
A few things of note:
In the new part of the district, Mr. Doheny has a slight lead that is right around the margin of error, 41 percent to 37 percent. Only 12 percent said they were undecided, and 9 percent said that they were going for Green Party candidate Don Hassig. By election day, both of those numbers will have dipped dramatically, so it's still a tossup there.
Mr. Owens built his lead baed on 60 percent of support, opposed to 32 percent of support for Mr. Doheny, in Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis counties. Jefferson is Mr. Doheny's home turf, and St. Lawrence is one of the few majority-Democrat counties in the congressional district.
Mr. Owens is winning big in the amorphous but important "favorability" rankings.
He has a net-29 percent favorability ranking, with 51 percent of voters saying they had a favorable opinion of him — including a net favorability of 37 to 32 among Republicans. Among independent voters, 56 percent had a favorable opinion, and 18 percent had an unfavorable opinion.
Mr. Doheny, on the other hand, has a net favorability ranking of 5 percent, with 36 percent saying they had a favorable opinion and 31 percent reporting an unfavorable opinion. It's a bad sign for Mr. Doheny when 38 percent of independent voters have an unfavorable opinion of you, and only 25 percent have a favorable opinion. Eighteen percent of Republicans reported having an unfavorable opinion of Mr. Doheny.
OK, I've said the word favorable enough. Favorable.
Not surprisingly, a plurality of voters, 41 percent, said that jobs was the most important issue, while 20 percent said the budget deficit was most important.
And on that score, Mr. Owens has a big lead, too, with 41 percent saying he'd do a better job than Mr. Doheny, who got 31 percent in the all-important metric.
Respondents were split about 50/50 on President Obama's health-care overhaul. The Doheny campaign still says that this is a winning issue.
On a range of issues, voters said that they favored Mr. Obama's approach — on taxes, on women's reproductive rights, on Medicare.
All my base are belong to me
For the next eight weeks, we're likely (weasel word, I know) to see the Doheny campaign make a play for the Republican base. If they can turn out Republicans, while peeling off some of Mr. Owens' 26 percent of support among them, this race is winnable for them.
But just what kind of voters make up the Republican base?
This race could be the ultimate test of ideology for north country Republicans. Anecdotal evidence says they're moderate. If Mr. Doheny can't win with a base strategy, we'll have more evidence for that.
The silver lining for Mr. Doheny here is that only half of all voters said they've been contacted by either campaign, and there's still plenty of time left to meet voters, air campaign commercials and put up yard signs. The orders for yard signs just came in. Indeed, in the news release, Mr. Doheny noted that Rep. Chris Gibson overcame an even bigger deficit in 2010 to win by 9 percentage points.
The Siena poll also shows that President Obama has a slight lead in the congressional district. Mr. Obama's poll numbers have seen a small but significant bounce since the conventions, and the fortunes of down-ballot candidates are tied to the man on the top of the ticket.
There is a risk that polls become self-fulfilling prophecies; everyone loves a winner, and it can get more difficult to raise cash if donors don't think you're doing as well. But that might not be as big a problem for Mr. Doheny, who has signaled a willingness to write a check to his own campaign.
But public perception matters, and Mr. Doheny has taken some tough headlines this morning. If his campaign is worried, they're not letting it on.
If Mr. Owens is going to win this race, he's going to need to pull a lot of Republicans and independent voters in the GOP-dominated rural swath of New York.
And according to Siena, right now, he's doing just that, while also doing well among his own partisans.
He's winning 76 percent to 11 percent among Democrats, while Mr. Doheny is winning 60 percent to 26 percent among Republicans. Independents favor Mr. Owens, 54 percent to 24 percent.
This is what I'd take away from this poll: It's bad news for Mr. Doheny, but there are eight weeks left and there's more campaigning to be had. Never count out a candidate who's willing to self-fund and who has a major party registration advantage.
We hear the word "paths to victory" quite a bit in the presidential race, and it's a metaphor that works better when we're talking about swing states, but I'll shoehorn it in here: Mr. Doheny has a narrower path to victory, but a path to victory nonetheless. One fifth of voters said they weren't very certain of their votes; another 8 percent are undecided. With Mr. Hassig's 6 percent up for grabs, that's more than 30 percent who could be moved, plus the margin of error.
Here are the cross-tabs: