GOP Plots to Reclaim Buffalo District It Just Lost

Posted December 10, 2004 at 2:58pm

While House Democrats are celebrating one of their few takeovers of the 2004 cycle in New York’s 27th district, Republicans are already looking to recapture the seat.

Although there are 70,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans in the Buffalo-area district, retiring Rep. Jack Quinn (R) held the seat for six terms and usually won by comfortable margins. Equally important, the district sits right next door to National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds’ home base, all but guaranteeing that the 27th will be a battleground once again in 2006.

The question is who will Republicans run for the seat — and whether their nominee would fare any better than Erie County Comptroller Nancy Naples (R), who finished 3,400 votes behind state Assemblyman Brian Higgins (D).

Naples, who is personally wealthy and spent more than $1.4 million on her losing race, ran as a political moderate and tried to tie herself to Quinn. She ran 8 percent ahead of President Bush. Higgins, like Quinn, appealed to organized labor, and was able to bring most union voters back to the Democratic column. He spent about $1.2 million on the race.

Republicans believe the big voter turnout for the presidential election pushed Higgins over the top.

“If it wasn’t for it being a presidential year, Naples would have won,” said Robert Davis, chairman of the Erie County Republican Party. “If [Higgins] is going to be taken out it’s gotta be in 2006, it’s not going to happen in a presidential election year.”

And with the conventional wisdom that the best time to knock off a House incumbent is when he or she is running for re-election for the first time, some Republicans are optimistic about picking up the seat next cycle.

“We feel Brian Higgins is not the best person to represent that district,” said NRCC spokesman Bo Harmon.

Davis said the Republicans have a number of promising options in the 27th district.

Naples, who when asked about another race said “nothing is ever out of the question,” has experience behind her and might give Higgins another tough run.

“I was very pleased at the close race [but] I haven’t talked to anybody” about 2006, she said. “I’m very proud of our campaign under the tough odds in the presidential year, especially in a district where President Bush was defeated so soundly.”

Naples must first decide whether to seek a fourth term in her county post next year.

Another possible candidate is Erie County Sheriff Patrick Gallivan, whose name was also thrown around for the 2004 race. Although Gallivan said it’s way too early to start thinking about 2006, he did say he stays in regular contact with Reynolds.

“There’s no question Nancy Naples made significant inroads when the numbers were stacked against her,” he said. “I wouldn’t be foolish enough to count anything out.”

Two other potential GOP candidates who enjoy a high degree of name recognition in the Buffalo district are former New York state Attorney General Dennis Vacco and former Buffalo Bills quarterback and NFL Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, both of whom were mentioned as potential challengers to Higgins this past year.

“They are all ‘A’ level candidates,” Davis said.

Still another possibility is Erie County Executive Joel Giambra (R), who announced last week that he would not seek a third term in 2007 but did not rule out running for another office.

But Democrats are confident that after entering the race following Quinn’s surprise retirement announcement in April, Higgins’ toughest challenge is behind him.

“The Republicans took their best shot this time around and came up well short,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Greg Speed.

The DCCC laid out about $900,000 in the 27th district, and several Democratic dignitaries made appearances on Higgins’ behalf.

Democrats expect to make big gains in 2006 — Bush’s sixth year in office, a generally prosperous time for the party out of power. New York state Democrats are also expecting a big year, with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton up for re-election and popular state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer likely to head their ticket as the nominee for governor. What’s more, they believe Higgins will thrive in Congress.

“Given Higgins’ likely strength and the ‘six year itch,’ it’s hard to see how the Republicans can do any better than they did this past election,” Speed said.