Republican Closes Gap In New York Senate Race

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Republicans have been looking for opportunities to make surprise gains in this November's Senate races. Some polls have shown that even in New York, they might have an outside chance at upsetting freshman Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

We're going to stay with New York now to talk about the U.S. Senate race there. Republicans have been looking for opportunities to make surprise gains this November, and some poles suggest that freshman Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand presents just such an opportunity. North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann has the story.

BRIAN MANN: When you Google the name DioGuardi, the person who pops up at the top of the list isn't Republican Senate challenger Joe DioGuardi. It's his daughter Kara, a judge last year on the show "American Idol."

(Soundbite of TV show, "American Idol")

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. KARA DIOGUARDI (Judge, "American Idol"): I've never cried after hearing something like that. You were amazing.

MANN: Its not a great thing a month before an election when you're being overshadowed by your reality TV show family, which is why it surprised a lot of pundits this fall when polls showed Joe DioGuardi, a former congressman from Westchester County, edging closer to Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

Mr. SEAN TRENDE (Columnist, RealClearPolitics): No sitting Democratic senator has ever lost in New York State. And so I wouldn't want to be out on a limb predicting it. I'm just saying that there's a scenario where it could unfold.

MANN: That's Sean Trende, a columnist with the website RealClearPolitics, who wrote an article this week titled "Could Kirsten Gillibrand Lose in New York?" The polls have been all over the map on this race, with most showing Gillibrand up by solids, or even landslide margins, but others showing her lead dwindling to single digits. Gillibrand was appointed to her seat by New York's governor last year to fill out Hillary Rodham Clinton's term, and Trende says Gillibrand still isn't that well-known.

Mr. TRENDE: Remember, she comes from upstate New York, a district that doesn't have a lot of Democrats. So she just doesn't have this base to rally around her.

MANN: Another factor here is that Gillibrand has been changing her political positions over the last year. Once seen as a centrist who favored Second Amendment rights, she embraced gun control. Then she took up the fight to allow gays to serve openly in the military. Here she is speaking earlier this year on MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show."

(Soundbite of TV show "The Rachel Maddow Show")

Senator KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (Democrat, New York): And during that time, the president can also issue a stop loss or do a moratorium. So there's a number of measure we can take immediately to stop the enforcement of this very, very corrosive policy.

MANN: Jerry Zremski, a political reporter with the Buffalo News, thinks voters - especially in the more conservative suburbs in the upstate region - still don't know what to think about Gillibrand.

Mr. JERRY ZREMSKI (Political Reporter, Buffalo News): She's really coming into the Senate as being an utter unknown. People simply haven't noticed her to the degree to you might expect people to notice a U.S. senator.

MANN: Gillibrand, a former congresswoman from the Hudson Valley, has a campaign war chest that top $11 million, which she's been spending on get-to-know-you ads like this one.

(Soundbite of political advertisement)

Sen. GILLIBRAND: I was born and raised here in upstate New York. It's where my family and I still call home.

MANN: Gillibrand also argues that DioGuardi will be hurt as voters learn more about his staunchly conservative views.

Sen. GILLIBRAND: Mr. DioGuardi holds a lot of extreme positions that are very out of step with New York.

MANN: DioGuardi is anti-abortion in a state where abortion rights are widely supported. In an interview this morning with NPR, DioGuardi argued that government funding should never be used to pay for abortions, even in cases involving rape or incest.

Mr. JOE DIOGUARDI (Republican Candidate for Senate): I'm a conservative Republican, and when it comes to money, I am very conservative. We're spending money we don't have. How many times do I have to repeat that? So when it comes to abortion funding, even in those cases, I would be against it.

MANN: DioGuardi would need a huge Republican wave to boost him past Kirsten Gillibrand, which is why observers will be watching to see if the GOP can make this race competitive in the final weeks before November.

For NPR News, I'm Brian Mann in Saranac Lake, New York.

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