The irony is, neither the GOP or Democratic candidate is likely to poll a majority of voters thanks to a Democrat who is running as a tea party candidate. Jack Davis has sunk $3 million of his own money into the race and is siphoning votes from the Republican candidate Jane Corwin.
If Davis wasn't in the race, Corwin would probably breeze to victory against the Democrat Kathy Hochul. But that won't be the headline tomorrow no matter how much Corwin wins by. That narrative has already been set so, in practical terms, there is very little difference between a narrow Corwin win or a loss.
To hear Democrats tell it, they have no business running competitively in a GOP-leaning district, and even if they lose, the closeness of the contest reflects dissatisfaction with Republican budget-slashing efforts that threaten entitlement programs.
"A victory by Kathy in such a ruby-red district would be a political catastrophe for Republicans, and they know it," Robby Mook, executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, wrote in an email to supporters over the weekend. Hochul's polling lead, Mook wrote, is a "clear repudiation of their reckless right-wing plan to end Medicare while giving tax breaks to Big Oil billionaires."
But Republicans are casting the race as a wacky three-way brawl whose outcome will say little about the national political environment and how the country is responding to the GOP budget blueprint.
"This race is competitive because a phony tea party candidate is spending millions of dollars purposefully confusing voters in an attempt to split the Republican vote," Jonathan Collegio, spokesman for the conservative group American Crossroads, which is backing Corwin, wrote in an email to reporters last week. "I'm not sure what the overarching meaning is there, other than that some older men are willing to spend vast amounts of treasure pursuing inexplicable ends."
A loss won't mean much beyond the spin cycle of a few days. Professionals know that if Corwin goes down, it says little about anything at all except the electorate is extremely unsettled. With that in mind, the outcome tonight will be interesting for political junkies but not much clarity in determining anything for 2012.