Christopher C. Collins has opened a substantial lead over James P. Keane in the closing days of the contest for county executive, according to a new survey that pollster John Zogby says reflects a nationwide desire for fresh approaches to government.
Republican Collins, who has painted himself as an outsider, leads Democrat Keane 46 percent to 33 percent in a poll of 400 likely voters conducted Wednesday and Thursday for The Buffalo News and WGRZ-TV Channel 2. That marks a steady rise from the first News/Channel 2 poll in late September, when both candidates were statistically tied, and from an Oct. 8-9 survey that showed Collins at 38 percent and Keane at 29 percent.
The poll has a margin for error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.
While Zogby of Utica-based Zogby International noted that 18 percent remain undecided (down from 28 percent in the last poll) and that "anything can happen," the poll shows Collins tapping into voters' yearning for something new. And the unpopularity of fellow Republicans such as President Bush and incumbent County Executive Joel A. Giambra has not posed a problem.
"There is no built-in advantage to just showing up for the Democrats and going against Giambra and Bush," Zogby said. "You've got to give the voters something. And Collins has given them something."
Collins' ability to attract 22 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of unaffiliated voters is "stunning," he said.
The poll shows that the Clarence investor's promise to "run government like a business" has connected. When asked which candidate would succeed at creating jobs, voters preferred Collins 47 to 29 percent. Almost identical tallies favor Collins in controlling taxes and doing a better job at "turning around Erie County."
The poll also raises basic questions about the effectiveness of Keane's advertising thrust, since his charge that Collins profited from government incentives to his businesses was dismissed by 79 percent as "having no effect."
Similarly, 77 percent said the Collins charge that Keane made a back room "deal" with Paul T. Clark, a failed Democratic candidate for county executive, had no effect.
"No matter which way you look at it, Keane has not been able to make a case for himself," Zogby said. "Arguably, he has approached the campaign wrongly. Keane has allowed himself to be portrayed as a professional politician at a time when it is not good to be seen that way."
Compounding the situation for Keane, he said, is the investigation into former candidate Clark's campaign finances. The expectation that the support Clark received in the Democratic primary would swing back to Keane, he added, never materialized.
Clark remains on the ballot as the candidate of the Independence Party and is not waging an active campaign, but garners 3 percent in the poll.
Still, the latest survey does not yet put Collins over the 50 percent mark, considered an important step in measuring campaigns close to Election Day.
Keane said Saturday that other polls measuring the primary as close were wrong, and he is paying no attention to this one.
"I am upbeat and confident," he said. "I believe I have great, great momentum, and people are listening to my campaign about getting results.
"I believe I'm going to win, and I just don't put any stock in these silly polls at all," he added.
On the other hand, Collins said he is pleased by results underscoring what voters told him throughout eight months of campaigning.
"People recognize we won't get back to a growth mode in a status quo environment," he said. "The polls you are running reflect that message."