LOUDONVILLE, NEW YORK — An independent poll shows U.S. Rep. John Katko trailing for the first time in his three-term tenure just a month out from Election Day.
Released Sunday morning, the Siena College/Syracuse.com 24th Congressional District poll shows Democrat Dana Balter with a narrow 45 to 42 percent lead over Katko among likely voters.
The other big takeaway? Voters aren’t thrilled with either.
“Balter’s favorability rating is about the same today as it was near the end of the last campaign. Katko’s favorability rating, however, has fallen over the last two years, from nine points favorable in October 2018 to now ten points unfavorable,” said Steven Greenberg, Siena pollster.
According to the poll, likely voters have a negative favorability rating toward both Katko (39-49 percent) and Balter (36-46 percent). The 2020 election will be a rematch of 2018’s, where Katko pulled away from Balter in a tight but decisive five-point victory.
Katko has always performed well in Siena polls since he burst onto the CNY political scene in 2014. A September 2014 Siena poll showed incumbent U.S. Rep. Dan Maffei ahead of Katko by 8 points — just one month later, Katko was up 10. Ballots would eventually reflect that margin and Katko would never again trail in a Siena poll — until now.
The Balter campaign blasted out an all-points-bulletin in the wake of the Siena announcement, saying it’s a sign voters are “ready to replace” Katko.
“This poll confirms what we’ve been hearing from voters across the district,” said Brexton Isaacs, Balter’s campaign manager. “Former John Katko voters are turning on him, and a big reason is his endorsement and support for President Trump. Voters in this district are fed up with Donald Trump’s irresponsible response to the pandemic, his efforts to rip away health care for millions of Americans, and his dangerous rhetoric.”
Katko endorsed President Donald Trump in January and has repeatedly said he has no intention to rescind his support, despite the president’s own falling poll numbers and continued criticism of the Trump administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Camillus Republican’s campaign brushed off the poll numbers when reached for comment, claiming Katko is “in a strong spot.”
“John is among the only Republican candidates in the country leading with independents, said Tom Haag, Katko campaign manager, adding that the poll “undersamples the GOP electorate” at just 33 percent. In contrast, Haag said, NY-24 GOP electorate share has not been below 38 percent for the past four elections.
Katko is indeed shown leading among likely independent (not Democrat or Republican) voters, 45 percent to Balter’s 40 percent. Balter leads among women voters 52 to 36; Katko’s lead among men is a near-mirror image of 50 to 35. Balter leads by 17 percent (50 to 33) in the city of Syracuse; she holds a 1-point lead in the rest of Onondaga County (44 to 43). The poll aggregates results for Oswego, Cayuga and Wayne counties and shows a dead heat in the NY-24 hinterlands: 44 Balter, 44 Katko.
The presidential election could also have a large impact on the Katko-Balter tilt, experts said.
“Voters in NY-24 are solidly behind Biden, 53-34 percent,” Greenberg said. “Biden routs among Democrats, 85-9 percent, has an 18-point lead with independents, and even gains the support of nearly one-quarter of Republicans, who favor Trump 63-23 percent. Biden has a huge lead in Syracuse, a big lead in the rest of Onondaga County and a 10-point lead in the other counties.”
In the last presidential election in 2016, Hillary Clinton carried NY-24 by 4 points while Katko cruised to an easy 21-point win over Democrat Colleen Deacon proving that the former federal prosecutor has what it takes to survive even in a hostile year and district.
“Greater support for the Democrat at the top of the ticket this year appears to be having a beneficial impact for Balter’s campaign. While zero percent of Balter voters are supporting Trump, 13 percent of Katko supporters say they’re voting for Biden,” Greenberg said. “These are voters that Katko needs to hold onto and likely increase if he wants to win re-election. And it is a group that Balter likely needs to try and woo back to her side if she wants to hold or increase her narrow lead. This looks like it’s headed to another close election.”
Election Day is Nov. 3.