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Hours before Erie County Sheriff’s Lt. Bert Dunn announced his candidacy Tuesday afternoon to challenge Sheriff Timothy B. Howard, Dunn appeared to be the clear favorite to win the Democratic Party nod and face the Republican incumbent.

But a text message sent earlier in the day from Dunn’s cellphone may have threatened his front-runner status.

Dunn texted that he’s not a fan of either President Obama or Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and that Ronald Reagan was his favorite president. He also stated that he’s fiscally conservative but needs to run on a major-party line.

The message was sent to many more people than the intended recipient, apparently a non-Democratic friend who wants to support Dunn.

That message didn’t sit well with West Seneca Democratic Party Chairman Dan McParlane.

McParlane, who is not a Dunn supporter, questioned how federal and state elected Democratic officials could support an anti-Obama and anti-Cuomo candidate, and how organized labor could support a Reagan backer. “I think it’s detrimental,” McParlane said of the text message. “If the Erie County Democratic Committee puts his name forward to get the endorsement, I think it’s a nuclear bomb. I don’t see how the Democratic Committee can endorse anyone who doesn’t have the beliefs we do. It seems to me that he ought to be running in the GOP primary.”

The text message apparently was a reply to an earlier text from someone named John, who requested a “Dunn for Sheriff” sign and offered to be a precinct captain for him in the Southtowns. “Does it matter if I’m not a dem?” John asked.

“Thanks John. Dem, Republican, Conservative, Independent, etc. The Sheriff’s office is not very political, but in NY you have to run as something,” Dunn replied.

“I’m not an Obama or Cuomo fan. Ronny Reagan is my favorite President. I’m fiscally conservative. But you cannot run under the conservative banner alone, you need a major party.

“I’m hoping many Republicans look at me and see a guy who shares their values on justice and fiscal issues. Which are the most important issues for the Sheriff.”

Dunn tried to put the text message into perspective, after he announced his candidacy Tuesday afternoon.

“It’s a personal message I sent to a friend,” he told The Buffalo News. “Obviously, like anything else, it can be taken out of context.”

“I support Democratic Party principles, but I can’t agree with everything every Democrat has ever said,” he added. “I’m an individual person. I’m not a polished politician.”

Dunn, a 12-year veteran of the department, faces Richard “Dick” Dobson, a retired lieutenant and watch commander in the sheriff’s office, who announced his bid in late February.

Dunn, 42, is the president of Bert’s Bikes and Fitness and the son of the founder.

He entered the race as the clear favorite to win the Democratic Party nod against Dobson. After interviewing both candidates, the party’s 13-member search committee unanimously recommended Dunn, Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner said Tuesday, before the news broke about the text message.

Both Dunn and Dobson have been invited to address the party’s Executive Committee on Saturday morning. Zellner said he expects to make an endorsement soon, probably a week or two after Saturday’s meeting.

“I believe Bert brings a lot of resources to the campaign, not just financial,” Zellner said. “He brings a lot of contacts throughout the community, with many years in the business sector, and his family is very well-known.”

Asked later about the text, Zellner replied, “Nothing in this text message has anything to do with being a good sheriff. That’s what our community is looking for.”

Several sources previously said that Dunn has pledged to self-finance his candidacy, a commitment of several hundred thousand dollars.

The Town of Hamburg resident is a native Western New Yorker who’s married with three children. Dunn earned a bachelor’s degree from the University at Buffalo and an MBA from Canisius College.

Dunn made his announcement at the first home of his family’s business, Bert’s Bikes and Fitness, on Southwestern Boulevard in Orchard Park. That’s where he said he learned, at an early age, the value of hard work, the tremendous responsibility of being a business owner and the type of managerial and leadership skills that the sheriff’s office needs.

He also referred to the sheriff’s more than $100 million budget.

“With my background, my education and my experience, I know that I can get more out of that budget,” he said.

Unlike Dobson, his Democratic opponent, Dunn did not criticize Howard. But he talked about improving the efficiency of the department and empowering strong employees to do the job they were trained to do.

“The people of Erie County deserve a sheriff who leads from the front,” he said.

email: gwarner@buffnews.com