By JOE MAHONEY
The Daily Star
---- — COOPERSTOWN — Jobs, women’s health care, Medicare and energy — the same issues in the forefront in the race for the White House — have also taken center stage in the battle for New York’s new 19th Congressional District, pitting Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, against Democrat Julian Schreibman.
After months of slogging it out on the campaign trail and meeting three times for debates, both candidates are spending the dwindling number of days before Election Day next Tuesday, crisscrossing the largely rural district and trying to make a positive impression on the shrinking number of voters who remain undecided.
It’s a tight race — and voters who have not yet made up their minds could have a crucial impact.
A new poll from Siena College this week puts Schreibman within striking distance of GIbson — with the latter leading 48 percent to 43 percent — after the Democrat unleashed a a barrage of negative television ads at the incumbent, who carries not only the GOP line, but is also backed by the Independence and Conservative parties.
The newly redrawn district includes parts of the territory represented by Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-Hurley, who is not seeking re-election. It will also include much of the southernmost part of the district currently represented by Gibson. It would also wrap in Schoharie County, which is currently represented by Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, and portions of Otsego County now represented by Rep. Richard Hanna, R-Barneveld.
In an interview Wednesday, Gibson told The Daily Star he believes he has greater strength than the five-point lead Siena gave him in the survey of likely voters. But he conceded that Schreibman, who is also backed by the Working Families Party, has picked up some steam as a result of resorting to what the congressman argued are “false” ads.
“I’m just disappointed in how nasty and deceptive my opponent has been,” said Gibson, a decorated and retired U.S. Army veteran of the Gulf War who grew up in Columbia County and was educated at Cornell University.
At the same time, he added: “We think we’re in position to bring home a very strong victory.”
Gibson also said the fact he is the only congressional Republican in New York supported by the state’s largest teacher union — New York State United Teachers — contradicts Schreibman’s claim that he marches in lockstep with the ultra-conservative Tea Party.
Schreibman’s commercials have claimed that Gibson’s voting record suggests he would deny abortions to women who have been raped or are the victims of incest. Gibson said that is among the claims put forth by Schreibman that are false.
“I believe abortion is a private choice between a woman and her doctor,” Gibson said.
The bill in question that was supported by Gibson — limited to the District of Columbia — would prohibit abortion after a pregnancy of 20 weeks with exceptions aimed at protecting the physical though not the mental health of the mother.
Schreibman explained that he made that claim because Gibson voted for a bill restricting abortions that did not include an exception for rape or incest. His criticism suggests that a woman who had been raped or was the victim of incest would not have brought those facts to the forefront prior to the 20 weeks or pregnancy.
Schreibman, in a telephone interview, argued that Gibson has been erratic in his positions, and has abandoned his earlier support for building a nuclear power plant in the Hudson Valley and dismantling the federal Department of Education after it dawned on him those positions would alienate voters.
“I’ve never wavered in my support for women’s health care and women’s rights,” Schreibman said, in arguing that Gibson has tried to mislead voters regarding his voting record on abortion.
So far, New York’s most powerful Democrat, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, has not done any campaign events with Schreibman. Asked about that, Schreibman said he understands Cuomo has a busy schedule, and is currently tied up dealing with communities impacted by Hurricane Sandy.
Asked if any Democratic heavyweights would swoop into the district in the final days — as former President Bill Clinton did in 2010 for the Democratic congressman, Scott Murphy, who was beaten by Gibson two years ago, Schreibman said he knew of no such events.
Gibson, asked about Schreibman’s attempts to associate him with the conservative Tea Party, said his voting record supports his assertion that he is among the most moderate members of the congressional Republican delegation.
“I see myself working for everybody — for Occupy Wall Street, the Tea Party and everyone in between,” the congressman said. “I don’t even think in divisive ways, much less language that does that.”
Schreibman, a Yale graduate who works for a New York City law firm, also seeks to portray himself as having a balanced platform, one that he said looks out for the interest of middle-class New Yorkers, small business operators and farmers.
“The congressman, unfortunately, has been supporting plans that are been very good for big business and those at the top of the economic ladder,” he said. “You need to advocate for the kind of policies that are targeted at the kind of economy we have here in upstate New York.”
Gibson countered that he has been endorsed by the National Federation of Independent Business and the Farm Bureau, and has led efforts in Congress to bring internet broadband technology to rural regions.
The two candidates staked out similar positions on the proposed Constitution Pipeline, which would funnel natural gas from northeastern Pennsylvania to two existing pipelines in the town of Wright in Schoharie County. Both said they wary of the potential eminent domain powers the project planners would acquire if the pipelien wins approval from federal regulators.
Gibson said he opposed “taking land away from anyone who does not not want to” to provide a right of way to the pipeline planners.
“I think we can get a path that does not take private property away from people who do not want to give up their land,” he said.
Schreibman said he was pleased that “FERC (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) was insisting on alternative plans for the footprint of it” after many landowners objected to a proposed route that would have the transmission system traverse their land.
Schreibman also said he believes the pipeline project should be examined to determine “whether there is an actual need for it, or whether this is being done primarily to get a toehold for local fracking.”