ALBANY - Should he defeat Republican incumbent State Sen. Mark Grisanti in November, Michael Amodeo does not rule out joining a renegade group of Senate Democrats who often side with Republicans.
And that fence-sitting could cost Amodeo support from the Senate's Democratic leadership, which is still fuming over $750,000 it spent two years ago on a Rockland County Democrat who won but then joined the breakaway Democratic caucus.
"That's a discussion that we have to have in November. At this point, I really can't say,'' Amodeo said Wednesday when asked if he could rule out joining the Independent Democratic Conference. The group has helped pad the Republicans' narrow majority in the Senate with voting support over the past couple years.
"I can say I will be a loyal Democrat who will stand up for Democratic principles,'' Amodeo added.
Neither the main Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, in debt but threatening to spend several hundred thousands of dollars apiece in Senate races it deems potentially winnable, nor the maverick Democrats have decided whether it would be wise to pump cash into Amodeo's race.
Though the Buffalo-based Senate district has a nearly three-to-one Democratic voter enrollment edge, all sides are just now conducting internal polling to get a feel for the race, and Democrats know they will be heavily outspent by the cash-rich Grisanti and the Senate GOP committee.
What those polls find after Amodeo's primary win over two opponents will be a key factor in how much money he can attract from beyond Erie County.
But the political newcomer is making some Democrats jittery with his refusal to say whether he would caucus with the main Senate Democratic conference if he wins in November.
Amodeo declined to reveal which Democrats he has spoken to about possible support.
"I'm trying to get as much support as possible, so I'm talking to as many good Democrats as possible from all over the state,'' he said.
The Hamburg Democrat dismissed speculation the Senate Democrats will shy away from him unless he pledges not to join the mavericks.
"I haven't gotten the sense that it's 'you pick one or the other,' " Amodeo said. "What I'm doing now is trying to talk to every Democrat for unity. . It's going to take everyone coming together. I'm not excluding support from anyone at this point.''
Two years ago, Senate Democrats say they spent more than $750,000 helping Rockland County's David Carlucci win his Senate seat. But after his victory, he joined the Independent Democratic Conference, which Senate Democratic conference members grumble about as negatively as they do Senate Republicans.
"My thoughts are we are very fond of Mike Amodeo, and we think he has a great chance of winning that, which should be a Democratic seat. We first approached him to be our candidate a year ago, so I'm optimistic about his chances,'' said Sen. Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat who heads the Senate Democratic fundraising committee.
Gianaris declined to discuss whether his group will help finance Amodeo or to comment on Amodeo's refusal to rule out joining the maverick Democrats.
Other Senate Democrats say final decisions about funding for targeted campaigns are still a week or two away.
"It was a very impressive win last week by Amodeo that seemed to surprise many people, and I think both parties are looking very closely at that district for the November election,'' said Sen. Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat who has her own political action committee set up to help fund like-minded Democratic candidates.
While the Senate Democratic campaign committee did not take a formal position in last week's Democratic primary, Gianaris did personally contribute to the campaign of Charles Swanick, the former Erie County Legislature chairman. And Gianaris said Swanick was the strongest candidate.
Though the Kenmore Democrat lost to Amodeo, he remains on the Conservative Party line in the November election.
Both sides have their competing theories as to whether Grisanti or Amodeo fares better in a three-way race with Swanick.
Sen. Jeff Klein, the head of the maverick Democrats, and the other members of the group together recently gave Sen. Tim Kennedy, a South Buffalo Democrat, $13,000 for his primary contest; Kennedy said he has no intentions of bolting from the Senate Democratic conference to join Klein's group.
Asked about supporting Amodeo, Klein said the mavericks "will weigh our options in that race.''
In other campaign developments, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Wednesday he did not think Grisanti's vote for gay marriage rights last year hurt him with Republican voters, noting he won last week's primary.
But for two other Senate Republicans upstate, whose primary contests remain undecided because the voting is still too close to call, their pro-gay marriage votes last year clearly hurt them at the polls, the governor acknowledged Wednesday.
"I hope it works out for both gentlemen. . I hope they get re-elected,'' Cuomo said of Sen. Steve Saland, a Dutchess County Republican, and Sen. Roy McDonald, a Saratoga County Republican.
Both GOP senators, along with Grisanti and a retiring senator from the Rochester area, broke with their party to join Democrats in casting votes to legalize gay marriage.
"Sen. Grisanti was successful. doesn't appear to be evidence that the vote hurt him,'' Cuomo told reporters at the Capitol.
If Saland and McDonald lose their primaries, Cuomo said, "It would be disappointing for me. This is a vote that I urged they support and they take.''
The biggest financial beneficiary of funding from anti-gay marriage rights groups and individuals went not to Grisanti's GOP opponent, Kevin Stocker, but to Swanick.