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NAPLES GAINING IN RECOUNT

Republican Nancy A. Naples has picked up more than 900 votes in a recount that her supporters insist will turn defeat into victory in her contest against Democrat Brian M. Higgins in the 27th Congressional District.

But the Higgins camp says that even though Naples has substantially whittled into his lead, she still trails by too large a margin to overcome.

"She needs to get much more of the Chautauqua County absentee ballots, and she's not going to get them," said Higgins spokeswoman Suzanne Anziska. "It's absurd."

But Bradley J. Stamm, executive director of the Erie County Republican Committee and attorney for the Naples campaign, said Republicans are encouraged.

"This race, as we have said, is far from over, and every vote must be counted to verify the accuracy of this election result," Stamm said.

More than 13,000 paper ballots remain to be counted after a machine vote recount that shrank the Higgins lead from around 4,000 votes to about 3,127 as of late Tuesday, according to both camps.

Republican Commissioner Ralph M. Mohr of the Erie County Board of Elections said Tuesday that 6,792 absentee ballots, 6,657 affidavit ballots and 222 emergency ballots in Erie and Chautauqua counties will be counted beginning Monday. The significant number of outstanding ballots yet to be counted is giving new hope to Naples and the Republicans, even if Democrats remain so confident of a Higgins victory that plans to staff his new office are already under discussion.

"There's a lot more paper than we thought last week," said Erie County Republican Chairman Robert E. Davis. "We originally thought we would be dealing with 8,000 outstanding ballots; now it's up to 13,000. That's huge."

Davis said the larger number of paper ballots to be counted means Naples would need less than the 80 percent that Democrats say is necessary to overtake Higgins' advantage.

That prompted Stamm to label as "extremely premature" last week's call for Naples to concede issued by Erie County Democratic Chairman Leonard R. Lenihan.

Anziska dismissed optimism from the Naples camp as a "charade" that would not change the outcome. She noted that most affidavit votes historically trend toward Democrats.

"She's not going to win and she's already losing credibility with the voters," Anziska said of the Erie County comptroller. "Let her get back to figuring out this budget crisis with Joel Giambra and balancing the books of Erie County."

She also said that few Republican election lawyers are present this week at the Board of Elections to challenge the authenticity of absentee ballots to be counted next week. That, Anziska said, is a sign that the state party is not eagerly pursuing the case.

"If she had a chance, she'd really be in the thick of it," Anziska said.

Elections officials from both counties say that it could be Thanksgiving week before a final tally is completed.

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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