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Support for Romney stacks up; Record success of political fundraising in WNY rides on tails of health care ruling

Since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld President Obama's health care plan just two days ago, Republicans are suddenly basking in $4.6 million of donations flooding a joint fund for Mitt Romney and the national party.

Now the Republicans' presumptive presidential nominee can count at least $1.25 million more following two Buffalo events on Friday that set a Western New York record for political fundraising. It all added up to a pretty good day for Romney and his Republican faithful, who are already claiming a host of political benefits from the high court verdict.

That extended all the way to Reince Priebus, the national GOP chairman, who attended the event and couldn't wait to seize upon the political momentum he says the ruling has delivered.

"Certainly when the Supreme Court says that Obamacare is constitutional, the only way that we undo European health care is to elect Mitt Romney president," he told reporters. "Under that scenario, it energizes the base and energizes independents.

"People are voting with their dollars," he added, "but they're also voting to tell America that they're going to put their money where their mouth is and help this campaign with small amounts as well as big amounts to defeat Barack Obama."

The former governor of Massachusetts was nowhere to be seen during a Buffalo visit of only about three hours – unless you were among those who plunked down $2,500 or $5,000 to hear him speak at the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society.

He also starred at another reception at the nearby home of Anthony and Donna Gioia, where sources say about 60 people paid $10,000 to $50,000 to gather under tents for filet mignon catered by Oliver's Restaurant in the couple's backyard – even as chanting protesters gathered across the street.

Gioia, a Buffalo businessman and former ambassador to Malta, has emerged as Western New York's top Republican fundraiser in recent years, hosting previous events starring top GOP stars like Sen. John McCain, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former President George H.W. Bush. His Friday soiree, according to sources, attracted not only Romney and Priebus, but state GOP Chairman Edward F. Cox and New York Jets owner Woody Johnson.

Mark Hamister, another Buffalo businessman and Republican fund-raiser, joined with Gioia in planning the dual events, which drew top donors from all over New York. While Democrats and the curious who hoped to catch at least a glimpse of Obama's challenger this fall expressed disappointment, GOP strategists privately explained that fundraising and not exposure was the main goal of Friday's event.

New York, as one of the most Democratic states in the union, is almost guaranteed to vote Democratic this year – as are Buffalo and Erie County, the strategists say.

But Cox, the state GOP chairman, agreed that the Supreme Court ruling has energized the base. And he emphasized the role New York is playing in raising money for the Romney campaign and publicizing it through its media centers.

"We are not a swing state," he said, "but we're the most important non-swing state in the United States."

Still, even top Republicans were privately grumbling that the campaign would not even allow their candidate to smile for newspaper and television cameras.

The Romney trip accomplished its purpose with a record total, nevertheless. And his message to Republicans at the Historical Society and Gioia home also seemed to fire up Republicans who came away even more committed.

"The fact that $4.6 million has come over the last 24 hours on line tells us where this country stands," said Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy as he left the history museum.

Others who heard the former governor speak came away impressed by his commitment to "founding principles."

"He talked a lot about free enterprise, and how that is the foundation of the country," said businessman Frank Ciminelli, "and not the government."

"And he gave a great speech without a Teleprompter," added his wife, Rosalie, noting jabs often aimed at the president for his reliance on the speech-making aid.

Erie County Conservative Chairman Ralph C. Lorigo said Romney's speech was delivered crisply and was well received, though he acknowledged he was preaching to a crowd of committed Republicans.

"But the message, I think, is one most Americans want to hear," he said.

Not everybody in Buffalo was buying into the Romney mantra on Friday. Protestors lined the streets outside the event and in front of the Gioia home, holding signs reading "Tax the 1%" and chanting about job creation.

Romney's record at Bain Capital and his promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act were the primary concerns of the protestors, who used the 1 percent versus 99 percent language of the Occupy Movement.

Romney's decision to only meet with wealthy donors in Buffalo and not community members also angered the protestors.

Dana Gerace, a protestor from Derby, said the fact that Romney's event was only open to rich donors demonstrates his support for corporate greed over the well-being of the middle class.
"If he really cared about people, he would be here individually addressing all of Buffalo and Western New York, not just a few certain individuals," Gerace said.

Meanwhile, Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, held a brief news conference nearby on behalf of the Democratic National Committee. She said the way Romney ran Bain Capital as outlined in a story this week in The Buffalo News is not the way a president should run the country. She and several other protestors referred to Niagara Envelope, a company in which Bain invested that sent jobs out of Buffalo and Western New York.

"Because he's such a wealthy man coming to such a poor city, he really should be trying to find out how to bring money here, as opposed to taking money out," Peoples said.

And Leonard R. Lenihan, chairman of the Erie County Democratic Committee, said Romney's record "smacks of old Republican elitism," adding he is not in touch with people who are struggling to pay their taxes and student loans and to find affordable health care.?

email: rmccarthy@buffnews.com ?and kronayne@buffnews.com