Frantic efforts are winding up this weekend in two out-of-the-limelight primaries that will bestow on either County Executive Gorski or Republican challenger Joel A. Giambra what both need on the way to November -- momentum.
GOP voters Tuesday will choose between Giambra -- the endorsed candidate -- and Jeffrey L. Baran, while members of the small but influential Independence Party will decide the first head-to-head contest between Gorski and Giambra. In both cases, the results will provide winners with major bragging rights heading toward Election Day on Nov. 2, while losers must spin a new message to sustain a viable candidacy.
"In the case of the Independence Party, it becomes a heck of a lot more important than just the third line on the ballot," said Joseph F. Crangle, former Erie County Democratic chairman and a longtime observer of minor parties. "This is psychological warfare."
And that's why Gorski and Giambra devoted significant chunks of money and staff to influencing the outcomes of both primary contests. Some of those efforts include:
Massive mailings, including the now infamous spaghetti-head piece, to Independence Party voters. In the case of Gorski and the Democrats, the persuasion effort has even included personal visits to the homes of Independence members.
Recruiting drives by both Republicans and Democrats to get new voters to sign up in the Independence Party and participate in Tuesday's primary, where their votes could yield much more influence.
Democratic phone and mail efforts among Republican voters to cut Giambra's expected victory margin and weaken his fund-raising.
Gorski's recruitment of Independence icon B. Thomas Golisano of Rochester, the party's 1994 and 1998 gubernatorial candidate and chief ideological influence.
Most political observers see Giambra standing to gain the most and Gorski standing to lose the most. If Gorski wins Independence, they reason, it will be expected. If Giambra wins, it would underscore the incumbent's vulnerability while providing the major boost Giambra seeks.
"That would be a great upset for us to beat Dennis Gorski," said Erie County Republican Chairman Robert E. Davis, who claims Gorski exchanged Independence support for jobs and for the Democratic endorsement of Independence state Vice Chairman Thomas Pecoraro for Amherst Town Council.
"We go in as the underdog," Davis said. "But if we win, we would have a huge momentum lift. Gorski has a lot more to lose than we do."
Similarly, Giambra has more to lose in his own Republican Party should Baran score higher than expected. That would rob him of momentum.
"That's why he's (Gorski) been sending out mailings to Republican voters," Giambra said Saturday. "He's trying to prevent me from being his opponent in November."
G. Steven Pigeon, chairman of the Erie County Democratic Party, agreed that much more is at stake in the primary contests than an additional line on the ballot -- especially since Gorski has three already (Democrat, Conservative, Working Families) while Giambra expects the Republican and has an independent line.
And that's why Pigeon persuaded Golisano to travel to Buffalo last week to endorse Gorski, and why the influential Golisano followed this week with letters to Independence voters.
"We've basically pushed Gorski's excellent record," Pigeon said.
With only about 7,900 Independence voters registered in Erie County, efforts to influence party members are concentrated in mailings, phone banks and even the personal visits. And since only a small percentage of registered voters will bother to trek to the polls on Tuesday, it's conceivable this important line will be decided by 2,000 or 3,000 people.
In the meantime, Giambra is also mounting a last minute push among voters in the GOP primary, where Baran is presenting himself as the "real Republican " -- in contrast to Giambra who only recently switched from the Democratic Party. Most believe Giambra must win this one and win it big.