In case you missed it, an election for Erie County executive is scheduled for Nov. 8.

It's pretty low-key. Republican incumbent Chris Collins is lurking in the weeds, raising money and "running government like a business." But he remains the early favorite, and will report about $1.5 million in campaign funds later this month. A seasoned and loyal campaign team is already on board. And he will mount a "promises made, promises kept" theme that will resonate in the suburbs.

On the Democratic side, money is not exactly cascading into nominee Mark Poloncarz's new campaign headquarters in Cheektowaga. The candidate never had a prayer of snaring the often-critical Conservative line, and he's not exactly William Jennings Bryan on the campaign stump.

It gets worse. Though Poloncarz was elected county comptroller in 2005, most Erie County voters don't recognize him or -- at best -- mispronounce his name. And in the half-century since the office of county executive was created, Dennis Gorski remains the only Democrat to ever win in overwhelmingly Democratic Erie County.

Still, a sense of optimism surrounds Poloncarz and his Democrats. New campaign manager Jennifer Hibit has this feeling that Poloncarz is about to give Collins a real challenge.

"This is absolutely a winnable race," she said a few days ago. "Mark would not be running if he wasn't getting a good response and good data saying he can win."

Hibit, a young woman with lots of campaign experience from her base in Local 1199 SEIU, recognizes first and foremost that Erie County has 132,569 more Democrats than Republicans.

"We want to bring them home," she said, referring to the many Dems who pulled the lever for Collins in 2007. Hibit says that after last Tuesday's big fundraiser for Poloncarz, the campaign will file a "six-figure" sum with the state Board of Elections on July 15. That hardly compares to Collins' well-stocked coffers, but anything less will produce snickers rather than support.

Internal polls show Poloncarz within striking distance, fueling more optimism. And local Dems expect Gov. Andrew Cuomo to take a special interest in the race, predicting he and his team will campaign for Poloncarz and tap their donor base in New York City to fuel the local effort.

Poloncarz is also expected to target suburban women, where sources say the polls show Collins vulnerable. And the campaign will focus on Collins himself.

"It's this idea that the Collins administration has ruled over Erie County rather than work with Erie County," Hibit said.

It's early. Collins will spend his money and flood the airwaves with the same message that worked so well in 2007. But on this July day, the underdog likes his spot -- even with a long way to go.


Quote of the Week comes from former Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, who spent several days in Buffalo last week working with former Erie County Democratic Chairman Steve Pigeon on the electoral college reform initiative championed by Florida billionaire Tom Golisano (remember him?).

The Democrat, who lost a close race in November but acknowledges he still scratches a political itch, said Michele Bachmann -- the Minnesota congresswoman who announced a presidential bid in her native Iowa last week -- is wisely staking her early claim in Iowa.

"Barack Obama [winner of the 2008 Iowa caucus] showed that when you have a conversation with the electorate on things they care about, good things happen," Culver said, adding Bachmann's tea party message may very well separate her from the rest of the Republican pack.

"I think she is in sync with the current Republican caucus voter," he said.


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