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Cuomo’s Coattails and Gillibrand’s Race

With some polls showing Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, locked in a relatively tight race for New York governor with his Republican opponent, Carl P. Paladino, one might wonder whether Mr. Cuomo will be able to provide much protection for Kirsten Gillibrand, the first-term senator seeking election on her own.

Ms. Gillibrand, appointed by Gov. David Paterson to fill the seat that Hillary Rodham Clinton vacated, is running in a special election for the remaining two years of Ms. Clinton’s last term, through 2012. The various polling firms that have released data for the governors’ race have done the same for the Senate election, in which Ms. Gillibrand is competing against Joseph J. DioGuardi, a former Republican congressman.

Ms. Gillibrand’s numbers seem to mirror Mr. Cuomo’s. In the Siena College poll that shows Mr. Cuomo with a safe-looking 33-point lead, Ms. Gillibrand’s lead is 26 points. But in a SurveyUSA poll that shows Mr. Cuomo just 9 points ahead of Mr. Paladino, Ms. Gillibrand’s lead over Mr, DioGuardi is only 1 point. (Other polls give Ms. Gillibrand leads of 6 and 10 points.)

This makes plenty of sense: while New Yorkers are just becoming familiar with Mr. Paladino, they have few impressions of Mr. DioGiuardi at all. In Quinnipiac’s poll of the Senate race, 61 percent of likely voters said they hadn’t heard enough about Mr. DioGuardi to formulate an impression of him, twice the figure for Mr. Paladino.  Although polls have shown New Yorkers gradually warming to Ms. Gillibrand, who was a congresswoman little known outside her upstate district when Mr. Paterson elevated her, she remains a less familiar name statewide than Mr. Cuomo.

It’s possible that the United States Senate special election will take on some dynamics of its own – but with just 40 days to go in the campaign, it is more likely that it will remain an auxiliary to the governor’s race. Mr. Cuomo and Mr. Paladino are more dynamic figures who will command significantly more news media attention.

Meanwhile, the state’s airwaves are crowded with political messages. There is the gubernatorial race, and another Senate contest: Charles E. Schumer, the state’s senior senator, is also up for re-election, and he has more than $23 million in cash on hand, though some of that may implicitly or explicitly go to help Ms. Gillibrand. On top of that, neighboring Connecticut has a Senate race, with the candidates running some ads on New York media outlets; and a number of House and down-ballot races in New York State are competitive this year.

(New York television watchers can be thankful that New Jersey holds its gubernatorial elections in odd-numbered years.)

While there have been various analyses of Ms. Gillibrand’s chances, unless there are further developments, the basic rule of thumb ought to be to take whatever share of the vote you expect Mr. Cuomo to garner, and subtract 5 points.

Of course, Mr. Cuomo’s standing with voters now is far from certain. But with the Siena poll showing him with a comfortable lead – albeit among registered rather than likely voters – and with a Marist College poll due out Friday that will reportedly show the same, it remains unclear that he’s in all that much jeopardy.

There is not much literature on what sort of “bounce” a candidate can be expected to receive in the polls after winning a competitive primary, but with Mr. Paladino having received a great deal of positive attention after trouncing Rick Lazio last Tuesday, the election has not been in a steady state, and that may have contributed to the erratic polling.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.