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November 6, 2012

Local officials expect big turnout

Tight White House race points to packed polls

By Joe Mahoney
The Daily Star

---- — “The future of this republic is in the hands of the American voter.”

— President Dwight D. Eisenhower

All campaign trails lead to Election Day — and with a highly competitive presidential race at the top of the ballot, the voter turnout today should be heavy across the region, local political observers predicted Monday.

In New York, polling stations will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

National polls suggested the contest between President Barack Obama and GOP hopeful Mitt Romney will be so close that some pundits say it is possible the Electoral College may choose a president who ends up losing the popular vote.

There is also significant drama over the race pitting Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, against Democratic challenger Julian Schreibman of Ulster County, a former federal prosecutor who served as his county’s Democratic chairman.

A Siena College poll released Oct. 29 suggested Schreibman was gaining strength and, according to that snapshot, trailed Gibson, a former Army colonel and Iraq war veteran, by just five percentage points.

Otsego County Democratic Chairman Richard Abbate said Obama and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, are heavy favorites in the region — a fact that could help propel Schreibman to finish ahead of Gibson when the ballots are tabulated tonight.

“I think everyone is really motivated this time, and we’re going to have a large turnout,” Abbate said. As for the presidential race, he added, the nation may not learn the winner for many hours after polls close because national surveys indicate it’s shaping up as a cliffhanger.

“I’m hoping we can have a clear winner so the country can go back to business,” he said.

The Gibson campaign issued media releases voicing optimism about the congressman’s chances of being elected to represent the newly carved 19th Congressional District after he racked up editorial endorsements from four daily newspapers in the region, including The Daily Star and even Schreibman’s hometown newspaper, The Kingston Freeman.

State GOP strategist Anthony J. Casale of Cooperstown said he expects Gibson will beat Schreibman throughout the distrct, with the exception of Ulster County.

“Schreibman will do OK in Ulster County, and that’s about it,” Casale said.

Casale contended that Democrats hoping Obama will have coattails for other Democrats running down the ballot may be in for a disappointment.

“Nobody knew the guy four years ago — but he talked a good game,” Casale said. “The thrill is gone.”

One maverick Republican who has not embraced Romney, Rep. Richard Hanna, R-Barneveld, now seeking the realigned 22nd Congressional District, faces a challenge today from Dan Lamb, a Tompkins County Democrat and a former aide to Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-Hurley. The latter is stepping down at the end of this year, citing health reasons.

Voters will also determine today whether to keep three incumbent Republican officeholders and one incumbent Democrat in their jobs or replace them with challengers.

State Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, undefeated in 13 outings for the job he has held for 26 years, is being tested this year by Howard Leib, a Dryden lawyer.

Meanwhile, Assemblyman Pete Lopez, R-Schoharie, is being challenged by Democrat James Miller, a former Albany police officer who is a native of Greene County.

In the 121st Assembly District, longtime Assemblyman Bill Magee, D-Nelson, is being challenged by political newcomer Levi Spires, a Republican from Madison County.

Another contest involving a drastically altered new district, the 101st Assembly District, pits Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney, R-New Hartford, against Democrat Dan Carter of Herkimer County.

There are also hard-fought battles for judgeships in Delaware and Chenango counties — and a slew of town board races where issues such as natural gas drilling and the pros and cons of the proposed Constitution Pipeline have been debated.

State University College at Oneonta political science professor Gina Keel also said Romney’s strength in areas with large numbers of GOP voters will help boost Republican candidates in those areas.

“Schreibman’s got an uphill battle where I am,” said Keel, a Democrat who lives in Sidney. “It’s Gibson country down our way.”

Nationally, said Keel, citing polling data, Obama appears to have a clear advantage.

“I think we’ll be celebrating an Obama win on Wednesday,” she said.

The sophisticated techniques used in the latest forms of polling have made political surveys more accurate, she said, though she doesn’t believe that better forecasting will drive down voter participation.

“I worry more about voter polarization and how it affects governing,” said Keel, noting partisan politics has become increasingly divisive, contributing to legislative gridlock.

Of those interviewed for this story, Otsego County Treasurer Dan Crowell was the only one who predicted a slight drop in local voter turnout from the participation level in the 2008 general election, when Obama won handily over Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

According to the 2008 voting data kept by the Otsego County Board of Elections, 26,122 voters cast a ballot for one of the presidential candidates.

“I get the sense from people on both ides of the aisle that there is a little less enthusiasm,” said Crowell, a Democrat. “So I expect turnout to be slightly lower.”

Crowell said he continues to support Obama, noting the president “got dealt a tough hand of cards” because of the national economic downturn.

“Foreign relations, in my view, is the only thing the president has substantive scope to make a big impact with,” he said. “I support the president for the foreign policy decisions he has made.”

Begging to differ was Otsego County GOP Chairwoman Sheila Ross. She said she has spoken with many voters who are unhappy with Obama’s handling of economic issues. “People want change,” she said.

Ross, who is also one of the county’s two elections commissioners, said preparations for today’s elections were going smoothly — with the exception of some voters who were confused by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s announcement that Garden State voters impacted by Hurricane Sandy could email or send telephone facsimiles of their votes to elections officials. That offer, Ross noted, does not extend to any voters in New York.

More than any other local race this year, the Gibson-Schreibman matchup has been marked by strident attacks and counter-attacks that have been stitched into television commercials, some of which have been funded by political action committees steeped in experience with hardball politics.

Delaware County GOP Chairwoman Maria Kelso said she has been appalled with what she maintained was overly harsh criticism of Gibson.

“He is one of the only politicians who gives his military pension back to the government,” she said. “The ads against him have been absolutely disgusting. I just hope people are smarter than that.”

Schreibman has bristled at an ad launched against him in early October by the National Republican Congressional Committee, which took the Democrat to task for representing an accountant accused of fraud. Schreibman decried what he called “shameful tactics” and “twisted logic.” The Republican group ended up pulling the ad.

In Delaware County today, voters will determine whether to keep County Judge Carl Becker, a Stamford resident, on the bench or replace him with Gary Rosa, a Democrat who serves as the Middletown town justice.

In a contest for Chenango County judge, Norwich attorney Frank Revoir, a Republican who stunned District Attorney Joseph McBride in the GOP primary, faces Diane DiStefano, an assistant public defender and a Democrat from Norwich.

In Delaware County, local political activists say a five-way contest for two seats on the Sidney Town Board is shaping up as a referendum on pro-drilling town Supervisor Bob McCarthy, even though the latter’s term is not up this year. Republicans John Schaeffer and Gregory McCann are opposed by two Democrats, William Heath and Tobias Whitaker. Also competing for a Sidney board seat is R. Eugene Pigford of the Authenticity Party.

In the Otsego County town of Otsego, Democrat Thomas Hohensee and Republican Paul Russo are vying for a seat on the town board.