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Southern Tier poised to provide exciting 2014 congressional race

Money is the lifeblood of any political campaign, especially in competitive races. And the race between Tom Reed and Martha Robertson is shaping up to be just that.

Steve Greenberg, a political pollster at Siena College, says it’s only recently that New York has seen truly competitive congressional races.

“We saw it five years ago, we saw it three years ago, we saw it last year and it seems almost certain that we are going to see it again next year,” Greenberg said.  

And the political distance between the candidates is vast. Reed, the former mayor of Corning, is a conservative with loose ties to the tea party. And Robertson heads the county legislature in liberal Tompkins County. But the national campaign committees of both parties are preparing for this to be a close race.  

The Republican Party’s congressional campaign arm recently added Reed to its Patriot Program, which assists Republicans in competitive districts.

Reed says he realizes he could be in for a tough race against Martha Robertson.  

“But if we just keep doing the work and stand for good sound policies, I think the politics will take care of itself,” Reed said.

The Democratic Party’s Congressional Campaign Committee has added Robertson to their Jump Start program, which is similar to the Patriot Program.   

Jump Start has helped the Democrat raise a third of the nearly $500,000 she’s raised so far. Robertson says that while it’s helpful and exciting to be receiving support from the national party, it's good to have help from around the region, too.

“What matters is we’ve got a real grassroots campaign going on and I am extremely proud and energized by that,” Robertson said.

She’ll need that energy. Reed has an early lead in fundraising. During the past six months he has raised $1.2 million, about three times as much as Robertson. Greenberg said that’s not a surprising advantage for an incumbent at this point.  

"For the challenger to be out there, having raised nearly $500,000, puts her in a strong position,” Greenberg

The interest in this race began last year. In 2012, Tompkins County Legislator Nate Shinagawa hoped to unseat Reed. The assumption was that it would be smooth sailing for the incumbent. Robertson says when Shinagawa came close to actually beating Reed without any national support, it got the party’s attention.

“A lot of people around the country took notice and the DCCC got interested in this district in a way that they weren’t before,” Greenberg said.

But Ian Pryor, a spokesman for the NRCC, says it’s a mistake to look to 2012 for a comparison. He says since that was a presidential election, Democratic turnout was higher.

“I think in 2014 what you’re going to see is a very different election," Pryor said. "And you’re going to see the effect that Obamacare is having both on the district, and the state."

Just this week the NRCC released an ad attacking Robertson.

“Martha Robertson as our congresswoman? Let’s take a look at what she’s done as a candidate,” the ad remarks.   

Steve Greenberg says that’s what happens when the national campaign organizations get involved. You get more ads where you might not otherwise have them. But not every race will get the attention.

“They’re not going to be able to adequately fund a dozen races in New York," Greenberg said. "So it’s going to get boiled down to four, five or six, which become the targeted races in New York next year.”

The Democrats need to win back 17 seats to have a majority in the House next year. They believe New York’s 23rd could be one of them.