Divided house district attracts national attention

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November 25, 2013

The midterm elections are still a year away, but in the Southern Tier, one political race is gaining momentum.  Democrat Martha Robertson is hoping to unseat Republican Tom Reed in the 2014 elections. WSKG’s Matt Martin reports how the candidates are already gearing up for a long campaign.

Money is the lifeblood of any political campaign, especially in competitive races.  And the race between Tom Reed and Martha Robertson is shaping up to be just that.

Steve Greenberg is a political pollster at Siena College.  He says it’s only recently that New York has seen truly competitive Congressional races.

“We saw it five years ago, we saw it three years ago, we saw it last year and it seems almost certain that we are going to see it again next year.” 

And the political distance between the candidates is vast.  Reed, the former mayor of Corning, is a conservative with lose ties to the Tea Party.  And Robertson heads the county legislature in liberal Tompkins County.  

But the national campaign committees of both parties are preparing for this to be a close race. 

The Republican Party’s Congressional campaign arm recently added Reed to its Patriot Program, which assists Republicans in competitive districts.

Reed says he realizes he could be in for a tough race against Martha Robertson. 

“But if we just keep doing the work and stand for good sound policies, I think the politics will take care of itself.”

The Democratic Party’s Congressional Campaign Committee has added Robertson to their Jump Start program, which is similar to the Patriot Program.  

Jump Start has helped the Democrat raise a third of the nearly half million she’s raised so far.  Robertson says that, while it’s helpful and exciting to be receiving support from the national party.

“What matters is we’ve got a real grassroots campaign going on and I am extremely proud and energized by that.”

And she’ll need that energy.

Reed has an early lead in fundraising.  During the past six months he has raised 1.2 million dollars, about 3 times as much as Robertson.

Greenberg said that’s not a surprising advantage for an incumbent at this point. 

“So for the challenger to be out there, having raised nearly half a million dollars, puts her in a strong position.”

The interest in this race began last year.  In 2012, Tompkins County Legislator Nate Shinagawa looked to unseat Reed. The assumption was that it would be smooth sailing for the incumbent.  Robertson says when Shinagawa came close to actually beating Reed, without any national support, it got the party’s attention.

“A lot of people around the country took notice and the DCCC got interested in this district in a way that they weren’t before.” 

But a spokesman for the NRCC, Ian Prior, says it’s a mistake to look to 2012 for a comparison.  He says since that was a presidential election, Democratic turnout was higher.

“I think in 2014 what you’re going to see is a very different election.  And you’re going to see the effect that Obamacare is having both on the district, and the state.

Just this week the NRCC released an ad attacking Robertson.

“Martha Robertson as our Congresswoman?  Let’s take a look at what she’s done as a candidate.”  

Steve Greenberg says that’s what happens when the national campaign organizations get involved. You get more ads where you might not otherwise have them. But not every race will get the attention.

“They’re not going to be able to adequately fund a dozen races in New York.  So it’s going to get boiled down to four, five, six, which become the targeted races in New York next year.”

The Democrats need to win back 17 seats to have a majority in the House next year.  They believe New York’s 23rd could be one of them.