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Primary day political roundup

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Thursday is primary day across New York state and in many parts of the North Country, polls are open from noon until 9 pm. It's also just 54 days to the November election. Brian Mann is our Adirondack bureau chief and he also follows politics closely on our In Box blog at NCPR.org. He and Martha Foley spoke this morning about how the election season is shaping up in the North Country.

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It’s a big day. It’s also a complicated day for Republicans, including voters in parts of our region. One of the big issues they’re wrestling with goes back to last year’s same-sex marriage vote in Albany.

Right. And this is a surprise to me. I mean, I think a lot of us thought this issue was sort of in the rear view mirror, polling shows increasing support among New Yorkers and among Americans for same-sex marriage. But in order for gay marriage to be legalized last year, and it was one of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s big priorities, he needed some Republicans to cross over and vote with Democrats, and some of them did just that. And now, it’s back and they’re facing a strong backlash from conservative candidates, from conservative voters.

Roy McDonald in Saratoga County, a long time state Senator, has been blasted by his primary opponent, Kathy Marchione, for failing to defend traditional marriage. And here in the North Country, it’s been a factor too, Teresa Sayward from Willsboro, long time assemblywoman, simply decided not to run for reelection. She was champion of same-sex marriage in Albany. And then Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, a close ally of Sayward’s, is running again and she’s facing two primary opponents, David Kimmel and Karen Bisso. Both say she was wrong to back gay marriage. Also, a big issue in other parts of N.Y. state-big state senate races in New York City and in Erie County.

And some of these races have gotten a bit ugly. There was a mailer sent by a conservative activist showing gay men being intimate. Another that accused one of the Republican candidates of being gay-friendly and of socializing with gays and lesbians—that seems odd.

Yeah, I think that a lot of people have felt that things here crossed the line, and it’s drawn certainly a lot of national attention to state races that normally would’ve been pretty sleepy. And I think there is some concern in the Republican Party that this could leave an opening for Democrats in several of these races if conservative voters choose a candidate today that’s just too conservative for moderate Republicans and for Democrats. It could put some of these otherwise safe Senate seats into play and give Democrats an opening. We have a very closely divided state Senate of very slim Republican majority there, so if one or two of these seats does flip into play in November’s race, it could really threaten the majority there.

You mentioned Janet Duprey, the assemblywoman from Peru. That’s a race we’ve been watching. She’s facing a tough primary fight today. So, before we move on, there’s one wrinkle this year that’s kind of making things a little more complicated. Let’s remind people about how her district, now the 115th district, has changed geography-wise.

Right. And this has been particularly confusing for people in St. Lawrence County who were dumped into a whole bunch of different assembly districts. It’s hard if you’re in St. Lawrence County to know who represents you in the future, and so if you’re in eastern St. Lawrence County, this message is really for you guys: Piercefield, Hopkinton, Lawrence, and Brasher. You may not have heard of these candidates. They come from farther in the east in Clinton County. But if you go to our website, this is your primary voting day. You’ll find a quick primer on who the different Republicans in the 115th Assembly District are, and again, your polls are open until 9 o’clock today.

We’re going to talk about the Congressional district race in the region, but before we go there, there was also interesting polling from the Siena folks this week that showed some strong support for President Barack Obama in the North Country (PDF) and it’s still a surprise to me in a region that has a big voter enrollment advantage for Republicans.

Yeah, this is interesting, and I think in the last decade we’ve seen more and more evidence that North Country Republicans are pretty fluid and pretty moderate. This is certainly shaping the big Congressional race this year. That poll from Siena found that 50 percent of voters in our region have a favorable view of Barack Obama. Only 44 percent by contrast have a favorable view of former Mass. Governor Mitt Romney. North County voters also favored keeping the health care reform laws—sometimes known as Obamacare—50 percent supporting that plan, only 47 percent opposing it. So, a very different brand of Republicans up here, I think, then you see in come other parts of the country.

And that I think beings us to the Congressional race between Republican challenger Matt Doheny from Watertown and Democratic incumbent Bill Owens from Plattsburgh. We reported earlier this week on Siena’s poll showing Owens holding a 13 point lead. I think that surprised a lot of people.

Yeah. I think so. And certainly I expected this to be closer. In some ways, Matt Doheny seems like the perfect candidate for this district. He’s more moderate. As his spokesman, Jude Seymour, points out, Doheny’s not a fire-breather, not a hard-right conservative. And this year, he’s also not facing the complication of a right wing challenger. Someone like Doug Hoffman, who ran in 2009 and 2010. But what he has done is run a fairly straight-forward Republican vs. Democrat race. He’s bashed Obama, he’s bashed Obamacare, bashed the federal stimulus. And one thing that Siena poll showed is that a big chunk even of Republicans in the North Country are actually comfortable with, or even like, those things. And so that makes the path more complicated for someone like Matt Doheny. And one of the problems, indeed, for Doheny is that a lot of Republicans—about a quarter currently—are breaking away and voting for Bill Owens. And that’s something he’ll have to sort out in these final weeks.

The Siena poll this week also showed the Green Party candidate, Donald Hassig, with 6 percent of the vote. He’s got to be happy about that.

I think he’s very happy about that. That’s what I’ve heard. And Don Hassig has run a pretty eccentric campaign. There’s a YouTube video out and about of him dancing and chanting and that sort of thing, he has no traditional organization, so 6 percent of the vote is a very strong showing. And one thing I will note is that if this race tightens up, if Matt Doheny can make a real race of it in this final stretch—voters choosing that Green Party label—that could really become a factor. And losing those votes could be something that stings Bill Owens. He’s a Democrat. He might be expected to pick up at least some of those environmental-leaning voters. Right now, not a huge factor, but we’ll see whether it becomes an issue as we go towards November.

Continue this conversation at the In Box blog, or follow Brian Mann's political coverage @brianmannadk.

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