NY-26: Jack Davis and the Spoiler Effect

No question: The presence of Jack Davis on the ballot as the “Tea Party” candidate made it tougher for Jane Corwin to win New York’s 26th district. As I’ll explain in a piece going up shortly, the problem was yet another symptom of division in the factional upstate GOP, and a different candidate selection would have kept Davis on the sidelines. But Davis did run, and Corwin and her allies had to target their fire on two opponents, which complicated the election in ways we can’t quite reverse-engineer.

Saying that is not saying “Republicans can write this election off because it was spoiled.” Unofficial results have Hochul winning the election by 4,694 votes. Davis won 9,495 votes; the Green Party’s candidate, journalist Ian Murphy, won 1,130 votes. There aren’t any exit polls in the race (why would there be?) but the last Siena poll broke down the third party support like this.

Davis’s support was 25.6 percent Democratic, 33.3 percent Republican, and 41.1 percent independent.

Murphy’s support was 50 percent Democratic, 25 percent Republican, and 25 percent independent.

Hochul was beating Corwin with independents, and pulling 12 percent of Republicans as Corwin pulled 8 percent of Democrats. But to keep things simple, let’s assume that all the Democrats and Republicans who voted third party would have otherwise voted third party, and assume the independents split 50-50. If that happened, Corwin would have added 5,579 votes to her column. Hochul would have added 4,888 votes. Hochul would still have won the election.

That’s crude math, sure, but if Corwin had won anything less than 75 percent of the third party vote, she’d have lost anyway. Pointing and sputtering at the Davis total doesn’t strike me as an effective Republican spin on the race. It was a complicated campaign, with some other bright spots for conservatives.

- Hochul did not run a standard liberal campaign (if any Democrat outside of Alameda County even does). Her ads informed voters that she’d opposed driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants, that she favored a return in pre-Bush tax rates only for people making more than $500,000, and that Corwin had not cut spending in the New York assembly.

- Davis did not run as a “Tea Partier,” despite the ballot line. He focused all his energy on trade, promising to end trade deals, which would make the economy boom and allow us to dodge ugly choices on entitlement reform and taxes.

- The RNC’s post-election spin pointed out that most voters – 51 percent, ased on that Siena poll – said the most important issue was either jobs (20 percent), the deficit (19 percent), or taxes (12 percent). Corwin easily won voters who were concerned with the deficit and taxes. But who won jobs voters? Davis. He won 44 percent of them, while Corwin and Hochul won 17 percent each.

UPDATE: Siena’s Don Levy corrects:

The tab you cite is the percentage ofthose that support Hochul, Corwin or Davis that cite jobs as their topissue.  In that way, of Davis supporters, 44% say jobs was the top issuein their decision.  You have to run the numbers the other way to get thefigure you want.  That is, of those that say Jobs is the most important factor,32% were for Corwin, 34% were for Hochul and 28% were for Davis.

If someone does mount a semi-credible third party campaign in 2012, on a Davis-style jobs and trade message, could he or she complicate the GOP’s mission in Ohio and Indiana and Pennsylvania? Obviously.