ALBANY – Instead of knocking on doors of potential voters or making the rounds at senior citizen halls, Michael L. Amodeo is spending about five hours a day on the phone asking people to give him money.
Sometimes, there is no one home. Sometimes, the numbers are wrong. Often, he’s calling people whom he’s never talked to before and don’t know him.
“It’s literally dialing for dollars,” said Amodeo, the Democrat running in the 60th State Senate District, which includes parts of Buffalo and the northern and southern suburbs.
“It’s a long, arduous process to try to sell them why you’re the best candidate in the race. … It’s very difficult, especially for someone who is not an elected official,” Amodeo said of asking people for political donations.
Even though he enjoys a 3-to-1 Democratic enrollment advantage in the district, the Hamburg lawyer and political newcomer finds himself going up against an incumbent with better name recognition, Republican Sen. Mark J. Grisanti, and deep pockets of campaign dollars.
Today, Amodeo will file his latest campaign financial report with the state Board of Elections. It will show a balance of about $10,000, he said.
That is better than last month, when his Democratic primary contest put him in the red.
But it is far below the bank account balance that Grisanti is expected to submit to the board for an election just four weeks away. Grisanti’s aides were still compiling numbers Thursday, but his prior report to the state showed a balance 10 times the level of Amodeo’s.
Worse yet for Amodeo, the Senate Republican Campaign Committee – the main bankroller tasked with keeping the GOP in control of the Senate – has so much money on hand that it could give more to Grisanti in the coming month than he could even spend.
By contrast, the Senate Democrats’ central account has yet to even decide if it will spend any money on Amodeo.
With limited funds – it is operating in the red – because of their minority party status in the Senate, Democrats are targeting races they believe represent the best chance to retake the Senate. And Amodeo – through a combination of internal polling and still-to-be-determined fundraising abilities – has yet to make the definitive case to the Democrats’ central campaign committee.
Moreover, the central committee wants to see better evidence that the Erie County Democratic Party – in particular, County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz – will line up fundraisers and donations from the usual assortment of big Democratic donors in Western New York, sources in Albany say.
So far, that has not yet happened.”We’re having discussions about why this is a priority race and why we should have an opportunity to win. We’re making our case why they should get involved in the race and spend their resources here,” Amodeo said of the Senate Democratic committee.
Then there is the Cuomo factor.
Some Democrats, especially those who might have business before the state government, are not jumping to open their wallets to help Amodeo, Democratic insiders say.
That is because there is the strong perception that Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo wants Grisanti re-elected and Republicans, who have bent over backward to cut deals with the governor in the last two years, to retain control of the Senate, those party insiders said.
The 60th District is showing about a 73 percent favorability rating for Cuomo, according to one recent internal GOP poll. It explains the television ad that Grisanti has been running all but starring Cuomo – and the two men hugging at the ad’s end.
While Cuomo has not officially endorsed Grisanti, he has had regular – and many – kind words about the Buffalo Republican, especially for his support of last year’s vote to legalize same-sex marriage. That is freezing money from some big Democratic donors to Amodeo, according to some Democrats.
“I think Democrats are astute enough to read between the lines,” one Democrat said when asked how Cuomo’s not-so-subtle backing of Grisanti is affecting money for Amodeo.
But the new chairman of the Erie County Democratic Party, Jeremy J. Zellner, said Grisanti has “done a good job of camouflaging himself as a quasi-Democrat in the past two years. I think some people may be fooled by that, and others certainly won’t.”
Zellner said he is certainly “not throwing in the towel” on trying to get Cuomo to back Amodeo.
And he dismissed widespread speculation that last week’s nasty battle for chairmanship of the Erie County Democratic Party – which Zellner won despite the work of some Cuomo operatives – would dent Amodeo’s fundraising abilities. He said that Saturday, party officials will hold a conference call to discuss working together on campaigns across the county, including the Amodeo race against Grisanti, which he called a “high priority.”
That means foot soldiers on Election Day to help make up for the fundraising disparities between the candidates.
One Democrat with ties to various camps said Amodeo will have difficulty raising money from outside the district – including some special-interest groups that have been major bankrollers for Grisanti.
“And I don’t think Amodeo raises any real big local money to speak of unless there is involvement from Poloncarz,” the Democrat said.
Amodeo said that he has been getting fundraising advice from Poloncarz but that the county executive has no formal role in fundraising for him.
Zellner said Poloncarz will be playing “a big role” in Amodeo’s campaign, including helping to raise money.
With four weeks to go and limited name recognition compared with Grisanti, Amodeo needs the money now to purchase advertisements and conduct mailings. Yet Amodeo said he believes that the money will be coming in much stronger, the closer Election Day comes.
“My initial thought would be Amodeo is having a hard time raising money because even some traditional Democratic donors are supporters of Mark Grisanti,” said Nicholas A. Langworthy, the Erie County Republican chairman.
They include the likes of even former Democratic Buffalo Mayor Anthony M. Masiello – an early preference of Cuomo to lead the Erie County Democratic Party – who has donated and raised money for Grisanti.
Asked whether Cuomo’s coziness with Grisanti is freezing out some Democratic money for Amodeo, Langworthy said, “I would certainly surmise that is the case.”