In a key battle for control of the State Senate, Republican Tom Croci has opened a wide lead over Democrat Adrienne Esposito in New York's 3rd Senate District, in part because she's struggling with name recognition and he is getting cross-party and independent support, according to a Newsday/News 12/Siena College poll.
Croci leads Esposito 56 percent to 29 percent among likely voters in the Suffolk County-based district, with 15 percent choosing "don't know/no opinion." The survey of 432 likely voters was taken Sept. 28-30. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.7 percentage points.
The survey also found Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo leading Republican challenger Rob Astorino in the district, 51 percent to 38 percent. Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins registered 3 percent.
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 district covers parts of Islip and Brookhaven towns and was a swing area for control of the Senate in 2008 and 2010.
With no incumbent running this time, the fight is expected to be heated between Croci, the Islip Town supervisor, and Esposito, a longtime activist who heads Citizens Campaign for the Environment, a nonprofit group. The district is 35 percent Democratic and 31 percent Republican. But Republicans historically have voted in larger numbers than Democrats in the district, according to Siena.
With five weeks to go, Croci has surged to the lead because of three main factors, said Steve Greenberg, spokesman for the Siena College poll:
Esposito isn't well-known to voters. While her favorable/unfavorable rating is even (19-17), 64 percent of respondents said they didn't know enough about Esposito to form an opinion.
Croci has strong and positive name recognition. Fifty percent of those surveyed said they had a favorable impression of the Republican; 20 percent said unfavorable. In contrast to Esposito, just 31 percent said they didn't know enough about Croci to have an opinion.
Croci has stronger support among his party base and is getting more nonparty support than Esposito. Croci is winning Republicans by a 10-1 ratio, but Esposito is winning Democrats by 2-1. Twenty-eight percent of Democrats said they preferred Croci. He also has a big lead among independent and minor-party voters, 53-31 percent.
About 46 percent of respondents said they are absolutely certain of their Senate choice; another 40 percent said they were "fairly certain."
"Is it over? No," Greenberg said. "But just five weeks out, she's got a lot of work to do to close a big gap."
"We know the only result that matters is who wins on Election Day," said Croci spokeswoman Christine Geed. "Until then, we will continue running an aggressive campaign about Tom Croci being the only candidate with integrity who can create jobs and improve the quality of life for the families of Long Island."
An Esposito spokesman said it is still early in the race and sought to tie Croci to the Roberto Clemente Park dumping scandal. Croci was serving a yearlong tour of duty with the Navy in Afghanistan when the dumping was discovered.
"This campaign is only just beginning to heat up, and every new day brings new, disturbing revelations about Tom Croci's role in the toxic dumping scandal that has engulfed our community," Mike Fricchione, Esposito campaign manager, said. "While Croci and his extremist Conservative Party allies have flooded the 3rd District with money . . . he will not be able to hide from his record of raising taxes, standing in the way of women's rights, and allowing a campaign contributor to dump toxic waste all over our parks and playgrounds."
Artie Schlett, 59, a Brookhaven Republican, said he will support Croci because he likes him and Democrats have had too much control, especially on a national level. "I feel the balance is upset right now," Schlett said. Of Croci, he said: "He has a reasonable track record of what he's done for Islip."
Democrats have said they will protect Long Island's interests and enact "progressive" legislation that Republican senators have blocked. That's part of why Robin Cassidy, 56, an Islip Democrat, backs Esposito.
"I've known her a long time, and she's always fighting for the environment and clean water," Cassidy said. "She's a centrist at heart. I think she'll bring the voice of the people to Albany first, not big business."