Voters couldn't ask for a more distinct matchup this year in their congressional choice between Republican Daniel J. Humiston and Democratic incumbent Brian Higgins.
Humiston stems from the business world, emulates businessmen like County Executive Chris Collins and revels in the challenge of running his chain of Tanning Bed outlets.
Higgins, by contrast, is the son of a politician and is a former Council member, County Legislature staff chief and assemblyman. He considers himself a "student of government" who believes in its power to achieve good.
After his razor-thin victory in 2004 established him in Washington, Higgins has become a fixture on the local political scene, and Humiston knows it.
But Humiston, an Independence Party member with GOP backing, is more than just filling the line. He is running a race complete with signs that closely resemble his Tanning Bed emblem, though Federal Election Commission records show he has raised only about $135,000 so far. That figure is considered ample for a decent campaign but hardly enough to dethrone Higgins and his more than $1 million campaign fund.
Humiston says sometimes a business perspective is just what Washington needs.
"When things are good, you want someone who has been in government," he said. "When things are not good, you want to shake things up."
All of this provides a classic contest because Higgins has emerged as a powerful political force on the local scene. He proved instrumental in obtaining $279 million from the New York Power Authority for waterfront development, as well as in removing tolls from the Niagara Thruway.
A champion of waterfront development, Higgins helped spearhead construction of a new outer harbor parkway, as well as the Erie Canal Harbor project, which includes a Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World store and other public and private development in the years ahead.
The congressman said his waterfront work stems from the "bully pulpit" offered by his position. Construction of the new federal courthouse on Niagara Square, meanwhile, results from his work -- and that of others -- in shepherding through Congress a project that was continually delayed.
"It's a matter of learning the process," he said. "Bringing home well over $100 million in federal money requires a certain skill set."
Higgins, 49, likes the opportunity his office offers for a district encompassing a struggling area like southern Erie County and all of Chautauqua County. His most important goals in coming years surround infrastructure projects such as the Peace Bridge and waterfront projects in both counties that he thinks spur development.
"Infrastructure is important, and I don't think this administration gets it," he said. "I'm not talking about pork. I'm talking real infrastructure dollars necessary to facilitate real investment." He also felt compelled to vote for the Wall Street bailout because of what he viewed as a pending national economic emergency.
"Nobody in Congress wanted to vote for that bill, but the consequences of not acting could lead to the collapse of the whole U.S. economy," he said. "I could have said I didn't create this and just vote no. But you can't do that."
Humiston opposes the Wall Street bailout. He pointed to assistance packages for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and AIG and asks, "Where does it end?"
"Maybe the banks need to take a bit of a haircut on some of these mortgages," he said of the root cause of the recent economic meltdown.
That's Humiston -- private-sector guy. At 45, he has employed thousands of people at Tanning Bed over the years, serving 300,000 customers. His whole business objective is to foster growth, he says. And because business growth has lagged so seriously in Western New York, so has population growth and the ability of young people to remain in the area and build successful careers.
A congressman, he said, has the ability to "mobilize an entire community" around the idea of growth.
As a result, his message revolves around no new taxes, reducing the capital gains tax, eliminating the "death tax," simplifying the tax code.
On one issue -- the war in Iraq -- he parts company with many Republicans and calls for an end to U.S. involvement in the conflict. "We should pass this on to the Iraqis and draw down our troops," Humiston said. "Then we should move on to Afghanistan and focus our effort on getting that resolved."
Humiston is hampered in his effort by the presence on the ballot of Harold "Budd" Schroeder, a longtime gun-rights activist. While the Conservative Party has consistently backed Higgins, the opposition of state leaders to late-term abortions (supported by Higgins) precluded its support for Higgins.
Candidates for the 27th Congressional District
Candidate: Daniel J. Humiston
Party: Independence (Running on GOP line)
Occupation: Owner - Tanning Bed Inc.
Education: BA - Muskingum College
Objectives: To bring a business background and "entrepreneurial spirit" to Congress. Advocates lower taxes, diversified energy policy, an end to the war in Iraq, and a "growth" policy that will bring jobs and population back to Western New York.
Candidate: Brian Higgins
Occupation: Member of Congress
Education: BA - Buffalo State College MA - Harvard University
Objectives: To use his knowledge of government to leverage funds for the infrastructure necessary to lure business and jobs to Western New York. Believes projects like waterfront development provide opportunities for public-private partnerships leading to jobs and renewal.
NOTE: Harold "Budd" Schroeder, a long time gun rights activist, is also running on the Conservative line.