Erie County joined New York State in Sen. John F. Kerry's column Tuesday, scoring an overwhelming local victory that helped contribute 31 electoral votes to the Democratic presidential candidate.
While election officials recorded solid turnouts, the showing was nowhere near the record-setting levels anticipated earlier in the week. Though President Bush scored his share of victories in several upstate counties and six Western New York counties, Kerry swept through Erie County and other major population centers by convincing margins.
With 98 percent of the statewide vote counted, Kerry was leading Bush, 58 to 40 percent, or 3,891,551 to 2,720,340.
In Erie County, he scored a 56 to 41 percent victory over Bush, or 230,986 to 171,061 votes with 97 percent of the vote counted. While independent candidate Ralph Nader did better in Erie County, with 2 percent of the vote, than in much of the rest of the nation, he did not prove a factor locally or anywhere in New York.
Predictions of unprecedented voting levels never materialized. Erie County Democratic Elections Commissioner Laurence F. Adamczyk said that when all absentee ballots are counted, turnout will be about 70 percent, even lower than the recent low figure of 72 percent recorded in 2000.
"I'm disappointed; I thought it would be higher," he said. "I don't know what to attribute it to, except maybe the bad weather."
Niagara County scored an even lower turnout rate of 55 percent.
Kerry narrowly won Niagara County with 44,072 votes, compared with Bush's 43,808 and Nader's 1,675.
But the president left his mark on the other six counties of Western New York. He captured Orleans County, 63 to 35 percent, with 9,893 votes, compared with 5,570 for Kerry and 249 for Nader.
In Wyoming County, Bush had 11,086 to Kerry's 5,757, or 65 to 34 percent, and Nader had 236. In Allegany, Bush tallied 11,560, compared with Kerry's 6,067, or 64 to 34 percent, and Nader totaled 305.
The president also took Genesee County, 62 to 38 percent, with 15,799 votes, while Kerry had 9,615 and Nader 61. In Cattaraugus County, Bush won, 59 to 39 percent, with 18,665 votes, while Kerry scored 12,410 and Nader 577. Bush won Chautauqua County with 29,868 votes, or 53 to 45 percent, compared with Kerry's 25,517 and Nader's 905.
In interviews with 20 voters from across Erie County, many seemed to pull the lever without strong enthusiasm. Of the voters interviewed at polling places in Buffalo, Cheektowaga and West Seneca, Kerry was the favorite by better than a 4-1 ratio, mainly along party lines.
However, one Kerry supporter described him as "the lesser of two evils," while another said that "anyone would be better than Bush."
West Seneca resident Nicholas Burgess thinks that a Kerry presidency would be better for the economy and for working people. The registered Democrat is not persuaded by those who contend that national security would suffer under Kerry.
"It's good to be secure, but if you don't have a job, you can't support your family," he said.
Carl Kujawa, a West Seneca Republican, maintained that even if people do not agree with Bush, they know where he stands.
"He says it like it is. He's not getting caught in a million switches, . . . like the opposition candidate," Kujawa said.
Leona Satkiewicz, 79, braved a steady rain as she arrived at her polling place in Cheektowaga. The registered Democrat said the soggy weather was not going to prevent her from casting a vote for Kerry, contending that Bush has moved the nation's economy and its foreign policy in the wrong direction.
"I think it's the most important election in my life, and I've seen a lot of elections," she said.
But moments after Satkiewicz cast her vote for Kerry, Cheektowaga residents Linda and Kenneth Scheffold were pulling the lever for Bush. They said that it was difficult to gauge what a Kerry presidency would mean for the country.
Another Republican, LaDawn Rutherford, voted for Kerry because she does not think Bush has managed the economy well. The day care operator said she knows a number of people who have had a hard time finding a job.
"Bush, I think he needs a lot of help," Rutherford said.
Kathy Lang, a Republican homemaker who voted at Hoover Middle School in the Town of Tonawanda, is a staunch supporter of the president.
Her husband, Jack, knew Bush when he was a pilot in the Texas Air National Guard in the 1970s and Jack Lang was an Air Force instructor at the same base.
Kathy and Jack Lang were waiting on the tarmac when Bush flew into Buffalo Niagara International Airport for a speech at Kleinhans Music Hall in April. They also attended Bush's second inauguration as Texas governor in 1999.
"We really admire him for his integrity, his faith in God, his family, his wife," Kathy Lang said.
But Kerry also had support at the busy Town of Tonawanda polling place, where each of the three voting machines had a line eight or more people deep in the late afternoon.
"I think it's dangerous if (Bush) wins," said Kathleen Walsh, a teacher who is a Democrat. ". . . I don't know what he's going to do in the world if he's elected."
News Staff Reporters Brian Meyer and Stephen Watson contributed to this report.