Rep. William L. Owens holds an 11-point lead over Matthew A. Doheny in the 23rd Congressional District race, a nonpartisan Siena Research Institute poll found, but that margin is cut to five when Conservative Party candidate Douglas L. Hoffman's supporters are told he's exited the race.
According to the poll:
n Mr. Owens, the Democratic and Working Families Party candidate, would receive 42 percent of the vote.
n Mr. Doheny, the Republican and Independence parties' candidate, would receive 31 percent.
n Mr. Hoffman, the Conservative Party candidate, would receive 15 percent.
Ten percent said they were undecided.
The telephone survey reached 607 likely voters from Oct. 5 to Oct. 7 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 points.
When Mr. Hoffman's supporters were told he has suspended his campaign and endorsed Mr. Doheny:
n Forty-seven percent changed their vote to Mr. Doheny, who would receive 39 percent of the overall vote.
n Sixteen percent said they'd vote for Mr. Owens, who would receive 44 percent overall.
n Eight percent said they'd stick with Mr. Hoffman, who would receive 1 percent overall.
Thirteen percent said they were undecided. Three percent said they won't vote.
Both remaining candidates downplayed the poll's significance.
"Truthfully, I don't put any stock in it," said Mr. Owens, Plattsburgh. "There is, in fact, too many other things going on and this is a big district and trying to get around it is a full-time job."
Mr. Doheny, Watertown, said he knew that this race would be one of the more competitive nationwide. The candidate said he was "surprised" by the poll's suggestion that 53 percent of residents in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties — among the most populated areas in the district — would vote for Mr. Owens.
"But who knows what the real numbers are?" he said.
The poll suggested a near-tie between Mr. Owens and Mr. Doheny in the eastern half of the district — 42 percent support to 41 percent. Mr. Doheny is faring slightly better in the southern part, which includes Madison, Oneida and Oswego, leading Mr. Owens 41 percent to 38 percent, according to the poll.
With two out of every three respondents saying the country was headed in the wrong direction, they urged the candidates to focus on jobs (39 percent), the federal deficit (21 percent) and health care and taxes (10 percent each).
Respondents were almost equally divided between liking Mr. Doheny, disliking him and having not enough information to form an opinion. They had a more favorable view of the congressman, with 46 percent liking him versus 36 percent have an unfavorable opinion.
The poll suggests a majority of voters have turned on Mr. Hoffman, who became a tea party icon during last year's special election. He is viewed unfavorably by 55 percent of people, while 28 percent said they still like him.
"It's a possibility that the Doheny advertising during the primary really resonated with people," said Raymond Petersen, who received a doctorate in political science from City University of New York and who now teaches at Jefferson Community College.
Respondents had an unfavorable opinion of President Barack Obama, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the U.S. Congress as a whole.
They were almost equally divided on their view of the tea party movement. Forty-five percent held a favorable view, while 41 percent held an unfavorable view.
Steven A. Greenberg, Siena's spokesman, noted that neither candidate has "locked up" his base. Forty-nine percent said they are absolutely certain they'll vote for Mr. Owens, while 48 percent they're surely going to pick Mr. Doheny on Nov. 2.
UNYTEA ENDORSES DOHENY
Mr. Doheny was endorsed formally by the Upstate New York Tea Party, which claims a membership of 1,000 district residents.
The group had backed Conservative Party candidate Douglas L. Hoffman in the GOP primary, but switched its support after Mr. Doheny prevailed.
"It's time to go ahead and rally and make sure there's one person who can go ahead and stop this marriage — and that's me," Mr. Doheny said, standing alongside a cardboard cutout of Rep. William L. Owens and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as bride and bridegroom.
The candidate has claimed Mr. Owens and Mrs. Pelosi vote the same way 93 percent of the time, but the independent website OpenCongress.org said the number is actually 85 percent. Mr. Owens, they said, votes with the majority of his party members 93 percent of the time. According to the Washington Post, Mr. Owens is in the bottom 12th percentile for party loyalty.
Mark L. Barie, chairman of the tea party group, said that his members would concentrate on get-out-the-vote efforts for the last three weeks before elections and that they would stage "some sort of a large rally" for Mr. Doheny.
Mr. Barie said he will pour "everything I have" financially into the race.
"I don't have very much," he said. "What I have is boots on the ground, a little over 1,000. We learned from the primary. We're beginners at this, but we're learning as we go along."
He concluded: "In the general election, it's not what the polls say, it's who gets out to the polls."