ROCHESTER, N.Y. (Democrat and Chronicle/WGRZ) -
By Jessica Alaimo and Megan DeMarco
U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter's lead over Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks was cut in half, according to a new Voice of the Voter poll.
Slaughter, D-Fairport, led Brooks, R-Webster, 49 to 44 percent in the new poll, which was conducted Oct. 7-11. This compares to a Sept. 24-26 poll where Slaughter led 52 percent to 42 percent. The Siena Research Institute conducted both polls.
In contrast, voter opinions did not budge in the presidential race, where President Barack Obama led GOP nominee Mitt Romney 52 to 39 percent in the October poll, and 53 to 39 percent in the September poll.
Slaughter and Brooks are competing in the 25th District, which includes all of Monroe County except Hamlin, Wheatland, Rush and Mendon. It's a closely watched race and interested parties are spending millions to influence the voters.
The 25th District no longer includes portions of Niagara and Orleans counties.
Slaughter leads 69 percent to 24 percent in the heavily Democratic city of Rochester . However, Brooks leads 50 percent to 43 percent in the rest of the county, where Republicans outnumber Democrats.
This follows voter registration trends in the county, where the city is 64 percent Democratic and 12 percent Republican, and the rest of the county is 32 percent Democratic and 35 percent Republican.
The poll numbers also show some ability of the candidates to attract voters from the opposite party: 16 percent of Republicans and 7 percent of Romney supporters said they'd back Slaughter; 16 percent of Democrats and 16 percent of Obama supporters said they'd back Brooks.
In the time between these two polls, negative ads in the Slaughter-Brooks race have ramped up.
The Slaughter campaign spent more than $1 million in ads, both spotlighting the congresswoman's accomplishments and aggressively attacking Brooks' tenure as county executive.
Not only has the Brooks campaign fought back, but a whole slew of outside groups have gone after Slaughter, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business and the National Republican Congressional Committee.
A review of television ad buys shows that there are many more to come.
"The penetration of campaign advertising can have an effect," said Don Levy, director of the Siena Research Institute. "The dollars that are flowing in there seem to be adding up, in this case it has moved a couple votes away from Slaughter toward Brooks."
Levy said voters are now taking a close look at both candidates' records, so the poll numbers reflect whether each candidate has successfully persuaded voters to second-guess her opponent's record.
Both the Slaughter and Brooks campaigns noted ad spending in response to the poll numbers.
Noah Lebowitz, Brooks' campaign manager, suggested voters are tired of Slaughter's campaign style.
"After Louise Slaughter spent $1 million on negative TV ads ruled untrue by nonpartisan fact checkers, voters are rejecting her dishonest, Washington-style campaign," Lebowitz said in a statement.
Slaughter has spent $1.1 million on advertising, but some of it has been positive ads promoting her own candidacy.
Eric Walker, spokesman for Slaughter, referenced the outside spending by special-interest groups backing Brooks.
"Despite millions being spent against us by the same special interests who are trying to defeat President Obama, voters are still siding with Louise. That's because unlike Maggie Brooks and her deep-pocketed allies, Louise has fought to protect Social Security and Medicare, opposed unfair trade deals and brought jobs and new industries to Rochester."
Some of the poll respondents explained their answers.
Slaughter supporters say they're sticking with the congresswoman.
"Louise has always done good for us," said Sharon Woodworth, 61, an independent from Brighton. "She's won some of the battles that she's fought. She's fighting to keep jobs here."
"I've always had faith in her and I'm not going to abandon her now," Woodworth said.
And some said Brooks' tenure as county executive has been tainted by scandal or partisanship.
"I don't trust Maggie Brooks," said Kenneth Applebaum, 50, an independent from Hamlin. He said county government has become a "one-party affair" under Brooks' administration.
"I don't want to send another person with that governing philosophy there," said Applebaum. "We need more bipartisanship, not more polarization."
Brooks supporters say it's way past time for Slaughter to step aside.
"I don't care for the idea of one person running, and re-running and being in the job so long," said Laura Caldwell, 54, a Republican from Webster. "I think it was time for her to step out of politics a while ago."
And Stephen Weisenreder, 33, said Brooks would be a more moderate voice in Congress that better represents the area.
He said Slaughter's record is so liberal, "I feel like she only represents half of her constituents."
"I think Maggie's done a real good job for our area," said Weisenreder, a registered Republican from East Rochester. "I see her as somebody who will go and be a strong voice for our area."
The October poll was commissioned by the Democrat and Chronicle, WHAM-TV (Channel 13), WXXI Public Broadcasting and WDKX-FM as part of the Voice of the Voter collaboration to engage local citizens in the democratic process. The poll and the television production of Voice of the Voter forums and debates are supported by The Community Foundation.
In the poll, Siena College questioned 800 likely voters in Monroe County. Of those, 43 did not live in the 25th District so they weren't asked about the Slaughter-Brooks race.
The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, and 39 percent of respondents said they were Democrats, 29 percent Republicans and 28 percent independents.