County residents may overwhelmingly disapprove of Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer's plan to issue driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, but that fact has not affected the race for county clerk, as Democrat Kathleen C. Hochul posts a commanding lead over Republican William A. O'Loughlin in the latest Buffalo News/WGRZ-TV Channel 2 poll.
Hochul is leading O'Loughlin 56 to 22 percent with 22 percent not sure or favoring someone else, according to a poll conducted by Zogby International. The poll surveyed 400 Erie County residents on Wednesday and Thursday who are likely to vote, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.
That prompts pollster John Zogby of Utica to conclude O'Loughlin's injection of the Spitzer plan into an otherwise ho-hum affair has had no real effect.
"It looks to me like it's simply a local race and the Democrat has the edge," Zogby said Saturday. "She is in good shape for a variety of reasons, and this has not had a negative impact on her."
Even though 72 percent of Erie County residents oppose Spitzers' license plan according to an early October poll by Zogby, the Democratic candidate successfully stood up to the O'Loughlin's attempt to link her to that proposal, the pollster said.
Hochul, who was appointed by Spitzer to a vacancy in the clerk's office earlier this year, said the poll shows residents paid close attention to the race and were not swayed by advertising.
"They're not paying attention to the negative ads, but to what they read in The Buffalo News and to what they see on TV," she said.
While O'Loughlin has worked hard to link his opponent to Spitzer's controversial plan, Hochul said the brouhaha actually worked in her favor.
"It gave me an opportunity to define myself to the community, because I don't think I had high name recognition throughout the county," she said. "Because I came out on the right side of this issue, people got to know what kind of person I am."
O'Loughlin said voters are discussing the governor's plan with him more than any other issue. He also said his message has been straightforward while his opponent has "flip-flopped."
In addition, O'Loughlin said he hopes that new television and radio ads featuring his endorsement by Amherst Supervisor Satish B. Mohan airing after the poll was conducted will have a positive effect over the next few days.
"I've gotten more response on the Satish Mohan TV and radio [ads]than any initiative we've done," he said.