Mark Grisanti is relying on his record during his first term in office, which he says includes passage of UB 2020, lowering taxes and bringing money into the area, to show he's a leader who gets results.
His opponent, Kevin Stocker, also wants voters to focus on Grisanti's record, but a different side of it, using Grisanti's vote for same-sex marriage and involvement in a casino brawl to paint him as an untrustworthy candidate.
Next Thursday, Republican voters will choose which side of that record matters to them when they vote in a primary for the 60th State Senate District, one of the most closely watched races in the state.
The winner will go on to what is expected to be a hotly contested general election, in which Democrats have zeroed in on the seat as a key to regaining control of the Senate. Troves of cash are likely to be spent in the November match-up.
The district includes Grand Island, the Tonawandas, a portion of Buffalo, Hamburg, Orchard Park, Evans and Brant.
Here is a look at the message each candidate hopes to sell:
Grisanti has attracted considerable attention for a freshman senator, achieving praise from both Republicans and Democrats for his ability to work across the aisle.
That plays well into his personal slogan: "People first, not politics."
He points to a number of accomplishments:
. The passage of the UB 2020 plan, which gives the University at Buffalo the authority to develop private-public partnerships that will stimulate downtown development. Grisanti sponsored the legislation, which eventually led to the creation of the SUNY 2020 program. The plan allows campuses to raise tuition by a fixed amount each year but keep the additional funds for their own use, rather than rolling them into a state fund. In Buffalo, one of the first projects will be moving UB's medical campus downtown.
. Opposing automatic state-funding cuts to Roswell Park in two years. Grisanti thought Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's proposed timeline was too short and pushed for a new proposal that requires Roswell Park to have a plan in place by 2014 outlining other funding partners; that proposal will not immediately eliminate state money.
. Grisanti rattled off several other accomplishments as evidence that he and other senators are cleaning up Albany's dysfunction: Implementing the lowest middle-class tax rate in 50 years, as well as the property tax cap, and passing two budgets on time. Most recently, Grisanti has come out in opposition to free college tuition for the children of illegal immigrants.
If re-elected, he would also focus on legislation that prevents welfare recipients from using Electronic Benefit Transfer cards to pay for alcohol and similar purchases.
In campaign fundraising, Grisanti trounces Stocker. He had $72,000 in hand at the most recent filing, while Stocker was $626 in the red.
Grisanti's first term, however, has not been without controversy. His vote for same-sex marriage last year drew considerable fire and made him a top target from both sides of the aisle. He lost the Conservative Party's backing, which went to Democrat Charles Swanick, but he gained a network of support from gay rights groups. He also was involved in a casino brawl earlier this year, but he said he would do the same thing if put in the same situation because he was protecting his wife.
But Grisanti eagerly focuses conversation on his record and future plans. If re-elected, he said, he will continue to bring resources to Western New York. He also said he's an independent, fiscally conservative leader who is best prepared to make choices that will help his constituents.
"I have a strong desire to continue what I've done in the past few years," he said. "My record speaks for itself as far as the benefit that Western New York has not seen in the infant stages."
The driving message behind Stocker's campaign is that Grisanti betrayed voters' trust and that his actions consistently go against conservative voters' values.
"I think the voters are angry about the breaches of trust, and this race is all about character, integrity and trust," Stocker said.
Stocker, the former deputy attorney for the Town of Tonawanda and the Village of Kenmore, ran for the Assembly in 2010. Although he lost, he put up a serious challenge against longtime Democrat Robin Schimminger.
He also ran unsuccessfully for judge in the Village of Kenmore and Town of Tonawanda. In both judgeship campaigns, opponents complained to the Judicial Election Oversight Committee of the Erie County Bar Association that Stocker's advertisements were misleading.
In the Kenmore race, for example, Stocker put out lawn signs that said 'FOR JUDGE VOTE STOCKER' with 'judge' and 'Stocker' in much larger letters. The oversight committee ruled the signs could falsely imply Stocker was the incumbent.
Stocker said he never said he was the incumbent in any campaign signs or literature.
After vigorously campaigning with lawn signs in previous elections, he has opted not to use any this election. Instead, he said, he is focusing on door-to-door campaigning and direct mail to registered Republicans.
But rather than talk about his past campaigns, Stocker keeps the focus on his opponent.
Grisanti betrayed voters, Stocker said, by voting to legalize same-sex marriage last June and then accepting downstate money at a Manhattan fundraiser following his vote, two things Grisanti said he wouldn't do. Stocker pledged to somehow bring gay marriage before the people for a vote, but he did not have specifics on how he would do that.
Voters are "looking at somebody that talks out of both sides of their mouth [and] does not tell the truth, and they're really upset with that," Stocker said, basing his characterization on voters he's met while knocking on doors.
Furthermore, the casino brawl that Grisanti and his wife, Maria, were involved in earlier this year was a poor reflection of Grisanti's character, Stocker said.
In response, Grisanti said Stocker is not one to comment on integrity when Stocker was cited for misleading campaign tactics. On accepting funds from downstate, Grisanti said that because his seat is a top target for Democrats, he needs all the help he can get. If Democrats win his seat and take back the majority, all focus on Western New York will be lost, Grisanti said.
As far as what he'd accomplish in office, Stocker said he would cut back on government spending. He does not, however, promote drastic spending cuts and said things should be cut little by little each year.
Stocker also plans to introduce legislation to cut legislators' salaries. Tightening spending there is the first step toward making an honest commitment to cutting state spending, he said. He also said reducing spending and taxes is the best way to jump-start the economy in Western New York and help families.
Stocker also favors term limits and ridding elections of "special-interest money."
The establishment has let voters down by supporting Grisanti, Stocker said. But he believes that on Election Day, his message will resonate.
"I'm taking power away from the political party bosses," he said. "And I'm giving it back to the voters."