Republican Tom Croci maintains a substantial lead over Democrat Adrienne Esposito in New York's 3rd Senate District, according to a Newsday/News 12/Siena College poll.
Croci, the Islip Town supervisor, leads Esposito, a longtime environmental activist, 59 percent to 34 percent among likely voters in the district, which covers parts of Brookhaven and Islip. The survey of 425 likely voters was taken Oct. 20-23 -- a week after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced his support for Esposito. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.7 percentage points.
The numbers in the race have hardly budged from a benchmark poll conducted one month earlier. That poll showed Croci ahead 56-29.
"It does seem noteworthy that this race hasn't closed," said Don Levy, director of the Siena College poll. "It doesn't appear she's succeeded in gaining traction."
In contrast, there was noticeable movement among district residents' views on the gubernatorial race. The October survey found Cuomo, a Democrat, leading Republican challenger Rob Astorino 44 percent to 41 percent -- down from a 13-point difference just a month earlier.
Levy noted that Cuomo "lost traction in the district, even among Democrats," since the September poll, a trend that may or may not affect the Senate race. In September, 78 percent of Democrats said they favored Cuomo, 10 percent Astorino and 4 percent Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins. In October, that shifted to Cuomo, 67 percent; Astorino, 15 and Hawkins, 13.
Esposito and Croci are vying to replace Sen. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who is leaving the State Senate to run for Congress against Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton).
The Suffolk County district has been a swing area for control of the Senate in 2008 and 2010. Currently, an unusual coalition of 29 Republicans and six breakaway Democrats control the chamber at the expense of 26 mainline Democrats.
When Zeldin announced he was leaving, Democrats and Republicans figuratively circled the seat as one of eight or so races that would decide the Senate power struggle.
But Croci opened a big lead that, unlike other Senate contests, hasn't declined.
On the bright side for Esposito, her name recognition has almost doubled since September. On the down side, her negative ratings grew faster than her positive. About 28 percent of district residents surveyed now say they view her favorably, while 38 percent said unfavorable.
"She is better known, but not in a way that enhances her electability," Levy said.
Meanwhile, Croci was viewed favorably by 59 percent of respondents and unfavorably by 24 percent. He even gained a split among registered Democrats, 39-39.
Croci also fared much better than Esposito at gaining independent support. Among independent and third-party voters, he leads 58-34.
"He is really cleaning up with independents," Levy said of Croci. "She needed to flip that around and she hasn't."
Croci enjoys strong core support from his party's base. Eighty-eight percent of Republicans said they back Croci, while 61 percent of Democrats favor Esposito.
The district is 35 percent Democratic and 31 percent Republican. But Republicans there historically have voted in larger numbers, Siena noted.
Despite the big lead, Croci spokeswoman Christine Geed said only: "This election is too important to take anything for granted. The results that count are next week on Election Day. Until 9 p.m. on November 4, we are going to continue running an aggressive campaign about Tom Croci being the only candidate who can create jobs and improve the quality of life for the families of Long Island."
Esposito's campaign manager highlighted her increased visibility and tried to link Croci to a toxic dumping scandal in Islip that occurred while he was town supervisor but when he was in Afghanistan on naval duty.
"Tom Croci has spent over half a million dollars lying about Adrienne's record, and the truth is, she has gone up in the polls," said Esposito spokesman Michael Fricchione. "Croci is relying on shady New York City special interest money and money from illegal toxic dumpers, which has flooded the airwaves with his lies. At the end of the day, Adrienne Esposito is the only candidate in this race who is out there fighting for hardworking, middle-class families."
As Election Day draws near, survey respondents contacted by Newsday indicated they were voting along party lines.
Kevin Keeley, a schoolteacher who lives in Islip, said he supports Esposito because he wants Democrats to control the State Senate.
"They typically lean more the direction I lean toward," Keeley said. Noting his family received helpful social assistance when he was growing up, he added: "They lean more toward social programs. I like the idea of supporting them."
Similarly, Leigh Ross, a flight attendant who lives in Ronkonkoma, said she supports Croci because he's Republican.
"I'm very conservative, so I lean more toward the conservative," she said. "I feel like he's a better candidate."