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Concern in the cubicles

Somewhere deep in the bowels of Washington's Democratic National Committee Building, some bright young analyst assigned to Cubicle 146B has been studying the 2007 election for county executive way off in Erie County.

"Hmmmmm," the bright, eager and committed-to-the-Democratic cause analyst most likely said. "This is interesting."

Brilliant. And insightful. But there's a reason for the arched eyebrows in Cubicle 146B.

You see, the victory by Republican Chris Collins wasn't supposed to happen. Erie County is one of America's bluest counties, with 120,000 more Dems than Repubs.

And everyone knows that Erie County has never offered more than a smidgeon of support for President Bush. In addition, the Republican incumbent in the county executive's office took one look at his polling numbers and decided there would be no third term.

The plot thickens.

"Hey, wasn't Buffalo where we sent Bill and Hillary, and Al and Tipper back in '99?" Cubicle 146B shouted over to Cubicle 146C. "I mean, that's real Dem territory. They filled the hockey arena with 20,000 supporters at the height of the impeachment mess.

"How did this happen now?" 146B wondered aloud.

As the Democrats look forward to the big presidential election of 2008, 146B's concern may be justified. If a "sure thing" like a Democratic victory in Democratic Erie County failed, what about the "sure thing" of a Democratic presidential victory?

Oh sure, if Sen. Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, she will prove tough to beat here. But if Mayor Rudy Giuliani emerges for the GOP, he will be a contender at the least. And if Hillary somehow fails and Rudy doesn't, it becomes even more interesting.

All this leads pollster John Zogby of Utica to ponder what the Dems will face next year. After surveying the Chris Collins-Jim Keane race in Democratic Erie County three times for The Buffalo News and WGRZ Channel 2 this fall, Zogby said Dems' enthusiasm should be tempered by that race and others around the country.

"I've been making the case from the polling that the Republicans are hurting but the Democrats have not closed the deal," he told The News. "Anything can happen."

Zogby looked at Republican victories for county executive in other urban upstate centers like Monroe, Onondaga and Oneida counties and sees that Democrats -- at least around here -- are not making the case. He calls it an "omen."

"I've been saying to Democrats: Don't start measuring the drapes for next year," he said. "Something is missing from the Democratic message if it's just saying 'We aren't Republican.' "

Zogby says the Democrats have to do more. They must identify the nation's problems and then propose how to solve them.

Yes, they oppose the war in Iraq, but how do they get out? Health care is on the agenda, but how do they implement it? And on immigration, Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama only muddied the waters until Hillary finally clarified her stand on driver's licenses for illegal aliens with a resounding "no" at the Las Vegas presidential debate a few days ago.

In addition, Zogby says Clinton's appeal to female voters when the boys were "ganging up" on her only goes so far.

"That may rally some women, but hey, men are watching, too," he said.

For sure, nobody in the camp of any Democratic presidential candidate is measuring any drapes for any White House yet. Everyone understands there's a long way to go.

But someone in the corner office of the DNC's executive suite ought to pay attention -- and sooner rather than later -- to the musings of the guy down in Cubicle 146B. He might be on to something.


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