Veteran left-wing Rep. Maurice Hinchey may be vulnerable in liberal upstate New York district

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New York Democratic Rep. Maurice Hinchey has spent just under two decades proving himself to voters. Despite a long history in the upstate New York district, the liberal 71 year old, who has faced little real opposition since winning his seat in 1992, now finds himself vulnerable to defeat.

According to an internal poll by Hinchey’s Republican challenger, George Phillips, Hinchey is polling well under 50%. The poll also shows Phillips within striking distance of the sitting congressman, with 37% to Hinchey’s 44%.

Hinchey’s liberalism in the past has been welcome in his district — which has been heavily gerrymandered to encompass a number of college towns, including Binghamton and Ithaca.

William Jacobson, Cornell University law professor and district observer, told The Daily Caller that Hinchey’s far left positions are in no way extreme for a town like Ithaca, but that the lack of excitement for Hinchey and liberal frustration with Obama are conspiring to make the race tighter than expected.

“There doesn’t seem to be any enthusiasm that I have seen for his campaign. I don’t see any Maurice Hinchey lawn signs or anything like that,” Jacobson said, noting that Ithaca is a town where people wear their politics on their sleeves. “To the extent that this year the Democrats, particularly liberals, need to get their base out – I’m just not seeing it in Ithaca.”

In an article published in the New York Post last week, Imre Beke Jr., co-host of a local New York radio program, analyzed polling data further, focusing on the high number of undecided voters, 19 percent, considering the race. “They’re not undecided about him (not after his 18 years in Congress), but waiting to hear more from his challenger. And so far, the more they know, the more they like Phillips,” Beke wrote.

Hinchey’s district is a liberal leviathan to be sure. However, his opponent has not shied away from hitting the incumbent for what Phillips’ campaign sees as the absurd things Hinchey has said and done. “Maurice Hinchey has a long history of saying outrageous things and making wild eyed claims, often with little to no evidence to support them. But that’s not nearly outrageous as some of his policy positions and votes,” Phillips spokesman Jazz Shaw told The Daily Caller.

Some of his more recent off-beat dalliances include charging that the Bush administration deliberately allowed Osama bin Laden to go free to justify the Iraq war, alleging that Karl Rove was behind CBS’s false Bush National Guard story, suggesting that the government should nationalize the American oil industry, and using a picture of himself cavorting with communist Cuban leader Fidel Castro as a fundraising tool. He also pushed to impeach President Bush in  2008.

According to Jacobson, one of the real problems Hinchey faces in the district is his association with the administration. “The district has been hit very hard by not just the economy in general, but by the Obama policies,” he said, pointing to layoffs in the district that came as a result of the administration canceling the development of a new fleet of presidential helicopters. Lockheed Martin would have made the helicopters in the district.
Shaw told TheDC that Hinchey remains out of touch, especially when it comes to employment. “While ramping up for his visit by Bill Clinton this week, he was touting his middle class roots and how in touch he was with the working man because of a couple jobs he held in college. Maurice Hinchey has been on the public payroll for 36 years or more. He doesn’t even remember the last time he worked a regular job.”

Theodore J. Lowi, Cornell University government professor, had a more sanguine view of Hinchey’s fate — noting that former New York Mayor Ed Koch’s endorsement of Phillips sealed the challenger’s defeat. In an e-mail response to The Daily Caller, Lowi wrote, “At this time, my view is that the heating up of the race is a case of despair. And, when former NY Mayor Eddie Koch jumps in, you can be almost certain it’s curtains for the Republican.“

Hinchey’s campaign remains confident.

“The thing that people have to remember about this district is that it is heavily skewed towards Democrats. It is mostly democratic and there are 5 good sized cities in it. So, every dollar these secretive third-party groups spend on their typical negatives pay less dividends than they do in more conservative districts. We’re confident that we have the resources and ground game to win this election. We’re also confident that the voters will see through the last minute attacks,” Hinchey’s spokesman Liam Fitzsimmons wrote in an e-mail response to TheDC.

E-mail Caroline May