Kirsten Gillibrand Barely Ahead of Unknown Republican Challenger

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Photo: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

Until this week Andrew Cuomo and Kirsten Gillibrand had been like Nintendo's Mario (the original version) in the midst of an invincibility star. That happy music was playing, they were steamrolling past their enemies toward November — life was good. But now the star is fading. There are only a few seconds left of invincibility. And in a moment, they will have to figure out how to overcome their opponents the hard way — as vulnerable mortals.

This long-winded allegory is all an introduction to two new polls today that show Senator Kirsten Gillibrand beating her Republican challenger, former Westchester congressman and former American Idol dad Joe DioGuardi, by one point and six points, respectively.

SurveyUSA shows Gillibrand leading DioGuardi 45-44 among likely voters, which is essentially a tie, while Quinnipiac has Gillibrand up six points over DioGuardi among likely voters, 48-42. Both are a far cry from the double-digit leads Gillibrand has enjoyed in all previous polls of the race.

It appears that, as with Paladino's recent surge, the tightening of this race has more to do with overall disgust with incumbents/insiders than specific complaints about the individual incumbent/insider Democrats running. Gillibrand's favorability rating is 43-32 and her approval rating is 49-37, so she's generally well liked. Not only that, but nobody knows who DioGuardi is. A whopping 61 percent of voters "haven't heard enough about him" to say whether they like him or not.

That's good news for Gillibrand, who, like Cuomo with Paladino, still has an opportunity to use her big cash advantage to define DioGuardi to voters. The difficulty is that, unlike Paladino, DioGuardi doesn't compare people to Hitler or e-mail his friends bestiality porn. He's a very conservative but very friendly, normal-seeming guy, one who Gillibrand won't be able to portray as an extremist.

September 23, 2010 - Little-Known New York Attorney General Candidates Tied, Quinnipiac University Poll Finds; Gillibrand Up By Only 6 Points [Quinnipiac]
Results of SurveyUSA Election Poll #17132 [Survey USA]
Related: Our Q&A with Joe DioGuardi