Local Republican leaders in New York’s 21st congressional district are sticking behind candidate Elise Stefanik despite a recent poll showing favorable numbers for three-time loser Matt Doheny, according to sources.
A polling memo released Wednesday by the firm Public Opinion Strategies (POS) and paid for by Doheny's campaign found Doheny leading Stefanik by a 49 to 13 percent margin among likely Republican primary voters in the district. It also said a majority of Republican and Independent voters said Doheny deserved another shot at running for the seat.
However, sources familiar with the district said the poll results could be attributed to Doheny’s name recognition. Doheny lost in the GOP primary for the seat in 2009 and narrowly lost both the 2010 and 2012 elections to Rep. Bill Owens (D., N.Y.).
Owens announced his retirement last month, bolstering GOP hopes of retaking the swing district that voted for President Barack Obama in the past two elections.
Sources also said the timing of the poll’s release was odd because it was conducted two weeks ago among just under 300 likely GOP primary voters. The sources added that the results belied support for Stefanik on the ground.
Stefanik, a small businesswoman and former economic and domestic policy staffer for the George W. Bush administration, has jumped out as an early frontrunner for the GOP nomination in the district after securing endorsements from several local party committees, community leaders, and elected officials.
Bill Teator, a political consultant who has worked with Republican lawmakers from the area, said in an interview that 11 of the 12 GOP county committees in the district have endorsed Stefanik.
They have not changed their minds in light of the poll results, according to conversations Teator said he has had with local party leaders.
“They know the enthusiasm was so unanimous for Elise in their committees that they’re planning on sticking with their endorsements and moving forward,” he said. “The poll hasn’t swayed that at all.”
Sources previously said Doheny did not receive support from the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) for another potential run.
Teator said Stefanik has been able to connect with voters in the mostly rural district as a fresh face with a small business background.
“She’s really impressed folks with her command of the issues, her energy, and this ability to get to all corners of this vast district and listen to people in their communities,” he said.
Doheny, by contrast, was plagued by ethical issues in previous campaigns and portrayed as an out-of-touch Wall Street investor by Owens.
Doheny did not respond to a request for comment.
A source familiar with the district raised concerns about the viability of the poll and said it was “a name ID balloon to try and create energy where there isn’t any energy.”
The source also questioned the release of the memo two weeks after the poll was conducted.
“When the fact is you’re only at 49 percent among the base—particularly in a Republican-energized year—this is not necessarily something to crow about or to run against someone who hasn’t spent a penny in paid media and has 13 percent [support],” the source added.
Neil Newhouse, co-author of the polling memo, was the lead pollster on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2012. Newhouse was criticized for polls showing Romney up in swing districts that eventually went to Obama.
Newhouse’s firm, POS, did not respond to a request for comment.
The Cook Political Report has rated New York’s 21st congressional district a “toss up” for the midterm elections this year.