Republican Elise Stefanik has taken a commanding lead in the GOP nomination race for New York’s 21st congressional district ahead of the Tuesday primary, according to a new poll.
Stefanik, a small businesswoman and former economic and domestic policy staffer in the George W. Bush administration, leads wealthy investment banker Matt Doheny 45 to 37 percent, according to the survey by GOP firm Harper Polling.
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Rep. Bill Owens (D., N.Y.) announced his retirement from the seat in January, prompting Republicans to view the mostly rural and historically GOP-leaning district as a potential pickup in the midterm elections.
Stefanik leads both tea party (51 to 38 percent) and non-tea party voters (41 to 38 percent) and portrays herself as a candidate who can unite factions of the GOP. She has secured endorsements from 11 of 12 GOP county committees in the district and elected officials such as Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), for whom she served as director of debate prep for his vice presidential run in 2012.
"We continue to feel a surge of momentum and enthusiasm for Elise's positive message to bring new ideas and new leadership to shake up Washington," said Charlotte Guyett, press secretary for Stefanik’s campaign, in a statement. "We appreciate the groundswell of support from grassroots leaders and Republican voters around the district."
Doheny spokesman Dave Catalfamo said the poll was "bought and paid for by the same people who have spent millions on negative ads attacking Matt." Stefanik has benefited from ads highlighting what critics say is a pattern of ethical issues for Doheny.
Forty-nine percent of respondents to the poll said they viewed Stefanik favorably and 29 percent unfavorably, while 41 percent said they viewed Doheny unfavorably and 39 percent favorably.
"Our focus has been on the ground, with real North Country voters, and as Matt knocks on his 2,000th door this afternoon there is a growing momentum for his positive, homegrown message of jobs and opportunity," Catalfamo said.
Ethical issues continue to plague Doheny, who has previously tried and failed three times to win the upstate New York district.
A video in 2012 surfaced of him groping two women and kissing one outside a Washington, D.C., restaurant; neither was his fiancée. Reports also emerged of his previous charges of boating under the influence and lawsuits related to missing rent payments on New York City apartments.
A former staffer for Doheny’s 2012 campaign told the Washington Free Beacon in a recent interview that Doheny attempted to claim she was not an employee of the campaign, denying her more than $34,000 in back wages and reimbursements. An administrative law judge ruled last year that she was in fact an employee and entitled to the payments.
Alicia Sirk, the former director of campaign operations for Doheny, also claimed that Doheny treated her more harshly because she was a woman—paying her less than male staffers and sending her profanity-laced emails.
"We have enough crooks in Congress as it is," Sirk told the Free Beacon. "And we certainly don’t need to add another one to it."
The winner of Tuesday’s primary will square off against Democratic filmmaker Aaron Woolf in the fall.
The poll surveyed 498 likely GOP primary voters in the district and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.39 percent.