In February, David Bellavia, a decorated Iraq war combat veteran and conservative Republican, was passed over by GOP party chairmen as a candidate for New York's 26th Congressional District special election. Bellavia tells THE WEEKLY STANDARD that tomorrow night at a rally in Rochester he will strike a blow against those party bosses--and Jane Corwin, the Republican they nominated--by endorsing another candidate in the race.
"I will endorse a candidate, but it will not be Jane," Bellavia told me during a phone interview this evening.
Bellavia indicated, without explicitly saying so, that the candidate he will endorse in the May 24 election is Jack Davis, a former Democrat now running as a "Tea Party" candidate. "Jack is a veteran. Jack is a self-made man," Bellavia said. "He's a guy who will leave his factory to his workers when he dies. He's right on immigration. He's right on jobs. The issues that I disagree with Jack, I disagree with all three [candidates]. There's not one pro-life candidate in this race."
According to a pair of recent surveys, Davis is polling near 23% while Republican Jane Corwin and Democrat Kathleen Hochul are neck-and-neck in the low 30s. Republicans were hoping that Davis supporters would shift support to Corwin, as they learn that "Tea Partier" Davis once ran as a Democrat and supported Barack Obama. But Bellavia's endorsement could complicate matters.
Bellavia said Hochul is a "smart, honorable, decent woman" who's had to "move left" to appeal to her party. "I do respect her and I do like her."
Assemblywoman Jane Corwin is perceived as a "machine candidate" by voters, said Bellavia. "I don't know what she stands for. All of her ads are negative. And she's bought her way onto the ballot," he described what he perceives to be the sentiment toward her.
Bellavia believes the county GOP chairmen picked Corwin as the nominee because she's wealthy and could fund her own campaign. "There was a lot of really dishonorable activity" while Bellavia vied for the nomination, he said. "Nasty stuff, whispering campaigns, spreading rumors of bribes and all this other crap."
"This district wanted to pick their candidate. They didn't want a candidate forced down their throat," Bellavia said. "I believe the best way to change the party infrastructure is to reject the individuals" chosen by Republican county chairmen.
Bellavia has made something of a name for himself in the district as a conservative and a combat veteran who was nominated for the Medal of Honor (and wrote a book about his experiences in Iraq). After the district's GOP country chairmen selected Corwin, Bellavia tried to get on the Conservative party line, hitting Corwin's pro-choice position on abortion. But the Conservative party backed Corwin.
While the special election is being hyped by many pundits as a bellwether for how the House Republicans' budget is playing, the peculiarities of this race may make it a poor test case. The GOP brand was already uniquely damaged in this district when Republican congressman Chris Lee abruptly resigned in disgrace due to a sex scandal. And Bellavia's endorsement of "Tea Party" candidate Jack Davis will make this race all the more anomalous.
Indeed, the close race may have a lot more to do with the New York GOP's dysfunctionality than it does with the House Republicans' budget. In 2009, a Democrat won a Republican-held seat in New York's 23 district after conservatives rebelled against liberal GOP nominee Dede Scozzafava. Scozzafava ended up pulling out of the race and endorsing Democrat Bill Owens, who defeated Conservative Doug Hoffman by about 5 points. Despite this loss in 2009, Republicans went on to make historic gains--first in the Massachusetts special election two months later and then in the 2010 mid-terms.
Of course, there are differences between NY-26 and NY-23. The 26th district is more Republican--McCain won it with 52% of the vote in 2008 while he lost the 23rd District with 47% of the vote. And Corwin is more conservative than Scozzafava. Corwin thinks abortion should be legal during the first three months of pregnancy, but she's against funding for Planned Parenthood and abortion coverage in Obamacare. She wants to repeal Obamacare and supports the House GOP budget written by Paul Ryan.
Isn't that reason enough for Bellavia to support Corwin over Davis and Hochul? "I think Paul Ryan has the only thing to save the country," Bellavia told me. But, he added, “we will never get a Paul Ryan Republican in our district unless we fundamentally dismantle the machine that picks these candidates.”