Chris Collins and Kathleen C. Hochul are “going home” this final weekend of their grueling congressional campaign. Not to their houses in Clarence and Hamburg, but to the core constituencies of the 27th Congressional District they hope will carry them on Election Day.
That’s why the Republican Collins spent an entire morning touring the Diversified Manufacturing Industries plant in Lockport a few days ago, talking business strategy with the company owner and lambasting Washington policies he says inhibit small business.
And that’s why Hochul, the Democratic incumbent, was working the dining room of a Batavia senior home, talking about health care.
Jon “Bowzer” Bauman of Sha-Na-Na fame, who works for an organization advocating the preservation of Medicare and Social Security, accompanied Hochul.
“Bum-ba-bum-ba, bum-bum-bum – vote for Kathy Hochul,” Bauman sang to the group.
Talking to residents there, Hochul intensified her promises to vote against changes in Medicare while taking time to chat individually with many in the dining room – the kind of personal touch that has crowned her a political winner for almost two decades.
In a race between two seasoned politicians commanding millions of dollars and national attention, Collins and Hochul are now turning to those they know best. Both hope their natural constituencies care enough to go to the polls Tuesday.
Reapportionment, however, handed Hochul the most Republican district in New York to defend after she won a special election in a Republican district less than 18 months ago. Nevertheless, streams of outside dollars pouring into her race underscore her viability.
‘I trust Hochul’
While Collins accuses her of being chummy with President Obama – polls find the president unpopular in the eight-county district – the congresswoman emphasizes her “independence.” And in recent days, especially, Hochul has told audiences like those in Batavia that she – and not her opponent – can reach across the aisle to get things done.
“You have to compromise,” she said. “That’s what’s sorely missing in Washington. That’s why we have gridlock.”
She pointed to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s appearance in Williamsville last week for Collins, describing the Republican leader as among those unwilling to find common ground.
“He’s the person who epitomizes the gridlock in Congress,” she said of Cantor. “Ask him why we don’t have a farm bill.”
At the Manor House senior home, she seemed to have made a hit.
“I like the things she says and the things she does,” said Anglie Ilasi, 98. “I trust Hochul.”
Dorothy Coughlin, 86 and retired from several educational institutions, recalled hearing FDR’s “comfort” as a high school student and compared Hochul to him.
“She seems to me an honest soul who cares about the little people,” Coughlin said.
At a meeting of Genesee County’s Independent Living Council, Hochul later met with 11 voters – some with disabilities. She made the case that Democrats better represent those needing help with housing and transportation to jobs.
“These are areas where I believe the federal government has a role to play,” she said. “I’m surrounded by people in Washington who don’t want to spend a dime.”
Hochul said she realizes the need to trim the federal deficit, but she said the $1.4 trillion in cuts proposed by the Ryan budget carries adverse effects.
“You know who that hurts?” she asked. “The people in this room with disabilities.”
While Collins has hammered her support for “Obamacare,” Hochul told the independent living group that she supports the concept but still opposes some aspects, such as taxing manufacturers of medical devices.
Later, a group of older women erupted with a chorus of “Hi, Kathy!” as she entered Batavia’s Coffee Culture.
They instantly recognized her, and she joined them to delve into a campaign that largely revolves around television commercials.
But the ad in which Hochul blames Collins for the loss of jobs at the former Buffalo China plant appears to have caused her trouble. The Buffalo News found the ad “mostly false,” and other media fact-checkers reached a similar conclusion. Hochul stands by the ad.
“I can’t explain how they came to a different conclusion,” she said, pointing to fewer employees under the new company Collins formed to operate at the plant after a previous owner closed it. “I don’t understand why everyone else has not come to the same conclusion that I have.”
Hochul is confident her forces will pull out a victory Tuesday, even in a district where Republicans outnumber Democrats by 8 percentage points. She has met thousands of voters over the campaign, and she said more than 200,000 phone calls will be placed on her behalf over the next few days. In addition, she said, 1,200 volunteers will call voters and knock on doors.
“We will get out the vote,” she said.
Collins’ ratings rise
In Lockport on the same day, Collins was burning up a campaign trail he described as increasingly supportive. At Tom’s Diner downtown, he walked up to patrons who instantly recognized the former Erie County executive.
Often criticized for being aloof and arrogant after emerging from the business world into politics a few years ago, Collins in this campaign seems to connect with voters more comfortably.
And the Siena Research Institute poll for The Buffalo News and WGRZ-TV released today shows his highest favorable ratings of the campaign, at 50 percent, higher than Hochul’s, which was 47 percent.
Almost all the voters he meets, he said, convey disgust with a nation digging itself further into debt. He often refers to his year-old granddaughter as a citizen already saddled with more than $50,000 of national debt. And he said he believes his campaign has benefited from the momentum of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
But he refused to bite on Hochul’s call for compromise. He insisted – possibly for the first time – that he will vote against any proposal to hike taxes, even as part of a bipartisan plan to reduce the deficit. Under Romney, he said, Washington will address the deficit with or without Democrats.
“I am confident that my pro-growth agenda will get government within its means,” he said, “and that a Republican House will get things passed and, certainly, reach out to like-minded Democrats.”
He called his opponent “disingenuous” for portraying herself as an occasional Obama opponent. He said her support for the president and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is “overwhelming.”
“She stands with Nancy Pelosi on every issue of significance,” he said, adding he recognized the reason why Hochul attempts to portray herself as “independent.”
“She understands this district and that they do not want a liberal Democrat,” he said.
Collins, too, latched onto Hochul’s Buffalo China ad and the independent analyses pronouncing it mostly false or false. He called her the “great pretender.”
“Her commercials have gone too far,” he said. “I think there has been a backlash against her ads.”
On his travels through Lockport, Collins seemed almost giddy on the production floor of Diversified Manufacturing, a 57-year-old engineering and metal fabrication firm with customers including Carrier Corp. and General Electric’s locomotive division. He delved into heavy manufacturing talk with DMI President Brian F. Costello, reflecting the importance Collins assigns to small business and its potential for job creation.
Collins found an enthusiastic supporter in Costello, who wants to add another 45,000 square feet of production space to his Ohio Street facility. But Costello said he believes banks and much of the national economy are reluctant to expand under an administration that fails to create an environment for industry to invest.
“It’s a confidence thing,” Costello said. “If it continues to go in the same direction, will unemployment continue? What about the cost of gas and commodities that have gone up in the last four years?” The businessman said recent military cutbacks have cost him 5 to 10 percent of his business, and he thinks policies espoused by Collins and Romney will turn loose a pool of investors.
That’s the kind of response that seemed to energize Collins. Costello’s position validates his claims that less regulation and lower taxes will stimulate the economy, Collins said, emphasizing that he thinks the 27th District will reflect the same views Tuesday.
“It’s just a reinforcement of what this country has got to do,” Collins said. “Give business owners the confidence to make a 20-year investment.”
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