The Republicans facing off in primaries Tuesday for U.S. Senate seats held by Democrats Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand hope a win will give them a boost in races against the better-known and better-funded incumbents.
Former CIA officer Gary Berntsen and consultant Jay Townsend are vying for the Republican line to take on Schumer in November. There’s a three-way contest among Republicans for the Gillibrand seat among Joe DioGuardi, a former congressman from Westchester County, former Long Island lawmaker Bruce Blakeman and David Malpass, a former Bear Stearns chief economist.
In each race, the winners will face a Democratic incumbent with far more name recognition, more campaign cash and a wide lead in the polls.
A Siena poll released Saturday showed DioGuardi and Townsend leading their respective primary races.
But past polls have shown Schumer and Gillibrand with wide leads over their potential Republican challengers. Republicans hope the gaps will narrow once the Republican field is winnowed down this week. Siena’s Steven Greenberg said that’s uncertain.
“I think what the winner of each of these two Senate primaries does get is some momentum. How much I don’t know,” Greenberg said. “But they will get a story that says ‘Candidate X wins primary as Republican nominee.’”
The three candidates running for Gillibrand’s seat have focused on economic issues. While their positions on cutting spending and debt in Washington are similar, their professional backgrounds are diverse.
DioGuardi, a former partner at Arthur Anderson, routinely mentions his background as a certified public accountant in vowing to promote measures that cut spending and reduce debt.
Malpass promotes his experience as an official in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations and says he will fight for fiscal reforms and fewer regulations.
Blakeman, who was a presiding officer of the Nassau County Legislature, has mentioned his leadership experience and promises to fight for jobs and the repeal of the recent health care overhaul. Blakeman is the party’s designee.
The Siena poll of 610 likely Republican primary voters released Saturday showed DioGuardi with 29 percent of Republican support, Malpass with 14 percent and Blakeman with 11 percent. But the Siena poll showed 46 percent of Republicans were undecided, making the outcome of Tuesday’s primary hard to predict.
DioGuardi is also running on the Conservative line, which has been crucial to Republicans running statewide. DioGuardi has said he will remain the Conservative candidate if he loses the Republican primary. Townsend, the Conservative nominee to run against Schumer, has not said whether he will keep the line if he loses the Republican primary.
Townsend had 25 percent of the GOP support in the Siena poll compared to 17 percent for Berntsen, though more than half the poll respondents were undecided.
Townsend is a communications consultant from Cornwall-on-Hudson in Orange County who promotes lower taxes and repealing the health care overhaul.
Berntsen, the Republican Party designee, led a paramilitary force in Afghanistan pursuing Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11 attacks. The Long Island native runs an investigative and security service firm, the Berntsen Group. He also wrote the novel “Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden.” Berntsen has stressed not only economic issues, but his wide overseas experience in calls for strong national security measures.
Gillibrand faces her own primary challenge from New York City lawyer Gail Goode. The little-known candidate failed to muster support from state Democrats but petitioned her way on to the ballot, contending that New Yorkers deserved a choice. The Siena poll showed Gillibrand ahead of Goode 63 to 12 percent.
Gillibrand was appointed last year to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was named secretary of state.
By MICHAEL HILL,Associated Press Writer
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.