New Yorkers won’t vote for any presidential candidates until April 19 when the primaries are held, but Erie County Republicans strongly hinted their preference Saturday by overwhelmingly backing Donald Trump in a straw poll the local party sponsored.
The billionaire developer who also leads the national polls snared 57 percent of the 313 votes cast at the Brounshidle Post 205, American Legion, in Kenmore during a colorful event that featured nominating speeches, voting machines and a convention atmosphere. And like last week’s New Hampshire primary, Ohio Gov. John Kasich finished second, with 17 percent of the vote among county Republicans.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was third with 11 percent, followed by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz with 10 percent and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush with 3 percent.
The poll “clearly shows a lot of strong support out there for Donald Trump,” said Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy, who conceived the idea and drew a huge crowd despite sub-zero temperatures.
“I suspect he would perform very well in Western New York,” Langworthy said. “I’m not surprised at all.”
Carl P. Paladino entered Trump’s name for consideration for the straw poll’s “nomination.” The Buffalo developer, Western New York’s most vocal Trump supporter who conducted his own “shoot from the hip” style of campaigning for governor in 2010, earned a thundering ovation when he took the stage.
Paladino earlier told The Buffalo News that while Trump and Cruz share much of the same ideology, he sees a major difference between them.
“Cruz’s views are so far to the right he can’t be elected,” Paladino said. “Donald is definitely electable because he appeals to the center.
“This is a man who built an empire,” he continued. “Most importantly, he will bring jobs back to America. He is very appealing to the trades and union people, who really don’t belong to the Democratic Party anyway.”
Joe Larkin from Clarence also attended the Saturday conclave, but harbored no similar reservations about Cruz. He would be among those voting for the Texas senator. He told a reporter that “because of elite people like yourself,” candidates like Bush or Democrat Hillary Clinton continually make the headlines.
“I’m tired of the same old, same old. You can take Collins and Higgins too,” he said, referring to GOP Rep. Chris Collins and Democratic Rep. Brian Higgins. “We need fresh faces.”
County Legislator Edward A. Rath III said he likes Cruz too, but his ideological support goes only so far.
“My practical side supports Marco Rubio,” he said. “I believe that with Marco at the top of the ticket, we have the best likelihood of winning in 2016.”
But while Trump stole most of Saturday’s show, Kasich seemed to make inroads. County Legislator Kevin R. Hardwick delivered a forceful speech in favor of the Ohio governor.
He pointed to many of the governor’s accomplishments in Columbus, Ohio, and as architect of “the last balanced budget, even one with a surplus” while serving in Congress.
“With John Kasich, we’ve got someone who’s been there, done that, and will do it again,” Hardwick said.
Former County Legislator Brian D. Rusk, a state committee member from Amherst, led the way for Bush. He recounted his experiences with the two previous Bush family members who gained the White House, and predicted the latest Bush to seek the presidency will restore “civility and respect.”
“He does not need on-the-job training, as what we have in the White House today,” Rusk said.
The straw poll Saturday, however, failed to mesh with Western New York’s financial backing for the candidates.
While Trump continues to largely fund his own campaign, Rubio is gaining strong support in the area. He raised $193,757 in Western New York (largely the result of a summer fundraiser in Snyder), according to a News analysis of campaign donations from 75 Western New York ZIP codes. In contrast, Bush raised $153,950.
And Rubio built most of that lead in the fourth quarter of 2015, when he raised $32,882 to a mere $2,900 for Bush. Throughout the year, other GOP candidates lagged far behind the two Floridians in local fundraising.
Langworthy, meanwhile, noted that Erie County’s urban, suburban and rural makeup often serves as a bellwether of New York State voting. While he previously supported Scott Walker for president, he has not lined up behind any other candidate following the Wisconsin governor’s withdrawal.
On Saturday he seemed to recognize much of Trump’s appeal as he analyzed his local party’s vote.
“He cuts across all demographics,” Langworthy said. “People are embracing his message of real change.”