New York’s 26th district was supposed to be a safe seat for the Republicans.
Back in February, right after Republican Chris Lee resigned when it was revealed the married congressman sent shirtless pictures of himself to a woman who posted a dating ad on Craigslist, Republican state Assemblywoman Jane Corwin looked like the golden girl.
At the time, a Republican strategist in New York described Corwin to The Daily Caller as a great candidate to replace Lee: “She has both financial capability—like a proven ability to fundraise. She’s enormously popular in the area, and very good media skills and speaking ability.”
Corwin promised to throw a seven-figure sum of her money into the race, making her a formidable contender, especially in a district that has elected a Democrat just once since 1953. Republicans moved quickly after Lee’s resignation to hold a nominating process, ultimately settling on Corwin, for whom the National Republican Congressional Committee immediately voiced their support.
By that point, New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo hadn’t yet called a special election, and no one was certain whether Democrats would even try to compete for the seat, unlikely as they seemed to win it.
Flash-forward to April 29 when Siena releases the first poll on the race, and Corwin only leads Democrat Kathy Hochul by 5 points. Jack Davis, the third party candidate running on the “Tea Party” ballot line, had a whopping 23 percent of the vote.
Republicans and other Corwin supporters sprung into action with everyone from the NRCC to American Crossroads to Tea Party Express to the National Organization for Marriage throwing money into ads supporting Corwin, or, more often, attacking her opponents, especially Davis.
The negative ads against Davis worked. When the next round of polling came out the weekend before the election, his share of the vote had dropped to about 12 percent. Except his votes hadn’t gone to Corwin like expected. They’d gone to Hochul, who went on to the win the election Tuesday by a comfortable 4-point margin.
So what happened?
Most of the blame, say two New York Republican political consultants, should be laid on Corwin’s poorly run campaign.
To begin with, her campaign did not start out with a solid message to define her. Instead of running ads telling voters who Jane Corwin was, “they go negative immediately out of the gate,” said one of the consultants.
“The Democrats defined her as the person from Wall Street, and Wall Street, up there, has a negative connotation,” said the other consultant. “That goes back to the fact that her campaign team never defined Jane as ‘local girl does well,’ ‘the hockey mom,’ ‘the soccer mom.’”
There was no clear message, both consultants said. Hochul, on the other hand, had a very clear message, and one that stuck – that Corwin supported House Budget Chair Paul Ryan’s budget proposal, which meant she supposedly wanted to end Medicare. The statement was not accurate, of course, but as one consultant pointed out, the full explanation was too long for a campaign ad.
“There’s an explanation, and it makes sense,” the consultant said, “But it’s not a 15 second sound byte. And when you have this vision of someone pushing grandma over the cliff, that’s pretty powerful.”