As Election night returns began trickling in Tuesday night, the Politics Column eagerly scanned for numbers that wouldn’t make a bit of difference in the outcome of the presidential election.
New York, after all, was inked into the Hillary Clinton column from the day the latest registration figures showed the state with an approximately 3 million advantage in Democratic voters.
That’s just the way it is around here. Nobody seems able to rub out the blue.
But the Erie County vote would nevertheless matter, telling us whether Donald Trump could lure upstate’s largest concentration of Democrats in places that still struggle for jobs and people.
Essentially, the numbers would tell us who we are.
But with just 10 percent of the vote counted somewhere around 9:45 p.m., the early returns from Cheektowaga provided the answer. It showed the same tally at which the town finished: Trump 49 percent and Clinton 47 percent.
Even at 9:45 p.m., it was clear that stronger numbers were required from places like Cheektowaga to paint Erie County red for the first time since it voted for Richard Nixon in 1972.
Cheektowaga remains the kind of place where Trump might do well. With more than 88,000 residents, it’s a working-class community of mostly ethnic, Catholic Democrats who can and often do vote Republican. But it needed to tally really impressive numbers to lead Erie County to Trump, and they never materialized.
Give Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner and Mayor Byron Brown – the state Democratic chairman – credit for extending the 44-year mark in supporting Democrats for president. They turned out the City of Buffalo vote.
“It was important for the whole ticket to have a strong city turnout,” Zellner said. “We really pushed the vote in the city.”
• Ditto for the district attorney contest won by Democrat John Flynn over Republican Joe Treanor. Erie County GOP Chief Nick Langworthy bet that a strong Trump showing would spill into the Treanor candidacy and elect a Republican DA for the first time since Dick Arcara in 1985. But a Republican DA remains a tough sell in Erie County, which now elects its chief prosecutor in presidential years when Democratic turnout is highest.
Trump voters simply did not stay on the line for Treanor. While Trump lost Erie by five points, Treanor lost by almost 10.
The effort by Treanor and Langworthy was worth a try. But it now remains truer than ever that the GOP will probably never again elect an Erie County DA.
• Back in Cheektowaga and Lancaster, the Trump effect – while not strong enough to lead Erie County – still packed a punch. Republican Russell Sugg, who waged a low-key race with little money against Democrat Monica Wallace, still managed 45 percent of the vote for the 143rd Assembly.
But Wallace also emerged as a non-traditional Assembly candidate for the district, which has been dominated by conservative Polish-Americans for as long as anyone can remember. Female, non-Polish and not conservative, she cruised to victory but had to work at it.
• The numbers also tell the tale in the 60th Senate District, where Republican Chris Jacobs scored a landslide 20-point win over Democrat Amber Small – despite an advantage of about 35,000 Democratic voters. Jacobs made up in the district’s suburban enclaves what he lost in the City of Buffalo.
But the Republican still fared relatively well in Democratic Buffalo. Jacobs, for example, garnered 40 percent in Delaware; Trump scored 21 percent. Jacobs tallied 34 percent in Ellicott; Trump, 7 percent. Even in Masten, Jacobs took 23 percent, while Trump managed only 2 percent.
The point is that Republicans theorized Jacobs brought “crossover” appeal to the race, just as in his two countywide victories in overwhelmingly Democratic Erie County.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars and truckloads of mailings later, they were right.