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Where's Chris Collins?

Chris Cross? New Siena poll shows Poloncarz within striking distance.

He’s on the television, certainly. If you live in the suburbs, he’s in your mailbox and on lawn signs.

But, especially since a Siena poll commissioned by the Buffalo News and Channel 2 News was released on Sunday and showed Erie County Chris Collins in a dead heat with Mark Poloncarz, his Democratic challenger, he seems to have disappeared.

That’s probably a good strategy: If those poll numbers, showing the well financed incumbent ahead by just three points with less than a month to go (that is, within the poll’s margin of error), then the election is very much in play. One gaffe from Collins—perhaps another request for a lap dance, or an Anti-Christ joke, or a garden-variety display of anger or arrogance—might remind voters, Democrats especially but some Republicans too, that they don’t really like the guy.

Collins’s campaign and local Republicans are disputing the results of that poll, arguing that it assumes a turnout in the Democratic city that they believe is unlikely to occur. Collins’s campaign spokesman, Stefan Mychajliw, calls the poll “fictitious”—we’re guessing he means the results, not the poll itself—and, in a couple Buffalo News articles, has been quoted referring to internal Republican polling that the Collins campaign deems more accurate and which shows Collins with a “commanding lead.”

The Collins campaign refuses to share the parameters and results of that internal poll, though section 6201.2 of the state’s election law demands that they do:

No candidate, political party or committee shall attempt to promote the success or defeat of a candidate by, directly or indirectly, disclosing or causing to be disclosed, the results of a poll relating to a candidate for such office or position, unless within 48 hours after such disclosure, they provide the following information concerning the poll to the board or officer with whom statements or copies of statements of campaign receipts and expenditures are required to be filed by the candidate to whom such poll relates:

(a) The name of the person, party or organization that contracted for or who commissioned the poll and/or paid for it.

(b) The name and address of the organization that conducted the poll.

(c) The numerical size of the total poll sample, the geographic area covered by the poll and any special characteristics of the population included in the poll sample.

(d) The exact wording of the questions asked in the poll and the sequence of such questions.

(e) The method of polling—whether by personal interview, telephone, mail or other.

(f) The time period during which the poll was conducted.

(g) The number of persons in the poll sample; the number contacted who responded to each specific question; the number of persons contacted who did not so respond.

(h) The results of the poll.

Mychajliw argues that the campaign need not file the poll with the state or county board of elections, despite having referred to it publicly in order to diminish Poloncarz’s candidacy, because, he says, “We haven’t directly shared numbers outside of our campaign.” That’s not true: The numbers of a GOP poll are posted on the website of Joe Illuzzi, and show Collins ahead, 51 percent to 34 percent, among likely voters. Unless they’re claiming Illuzzi as a campaign worker—which would be honest—the law requires that the poll be filed.

Election law violations are commonplace, but the unwillingness to share number is notable: Nothing hidden can be trusted to be what the concealer claims it to be. The Collins campaign must worry that the lively race for Erie County legislator in the new, city-based District One—between three Democrats, all with significant backing: Joe Mascia, Barbara Miller-Williams, and Tim Hogues—will draw Poloncarz voters to the polls. Likewise, the race for mayor of Lackawanna is likely to draw out Democrats, including supporters of African-American pastor Dion T. Watkins, who narrowly lost the primary but is trying to mount a write-in campaign.

There are signs that the new Siena poll is drawing some of the region’s splintered Democratic factions together in support of Poloncarz: Democratic chairman Len Lenihan and Poloncarz met this week with former chairman Steve Pigeon in the office of Pigeon’s old ally, Hormuz Mansouri. Pigeon committed money and manpower to Poloncarz directly and to the District One race, in hopes of turning out Democrats who will fill in the oval for Poloncarz. In addition, Erie County Water Authority commissioner and Pigeon ally Jack O’Donnell will co-host a fundraiser for Poloncarz.

“Mark’s campaign is drawing the party together,” Lenihan says of the meeting, one of several he’s had with Pigeon in the last year.

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