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Erie County Republican Chairman Bob Davis was joking the other day about donning a striped shirt and refereeing peace among the suddenly warring factions of the local GOP.

The bet here is that his black and white attire might get splattered with red. This could prove bloody.

Davis' acknowledgment of troubles within his normally staid organization demonstrates the new realities of the local political scene. Democrats, for the moment at least, are uncharacteristicly basking in warm and fuzzies under new Chairman Len Lenihan -- even securing a credible candidate for county executive in Amherst Council Member Dan Ward.

Republicans, on the other hand, find themselves in the unfamiliar position of open warfare among their top figures. The Capitol brawl between Gov. George Pataki and Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno has spilled across the state into Erie County.

Davis, his party hierarchy and County Executive Joel Giambra stand solidly behind Pataki in the GOP spat. And that pits them against major local figures like State Sen. Dale Volker -- as solid a Republican as Republicans get.

Pataki, Volker and Davis are all steadfast in their convictions. The governor and the chairman believe tax hikes violate "core principles" of the Republican Party -- less government and less taxes.

"When people see their taxes go up in record amounts, they're really going to question what happened," Davis said. "From a party perspective, you've got to stand for something."

Davis has impressive company in his stand. All seven other Western New York party leaders signed a letter several weeks ago supporting the governor (though only 46 of 62 county chairmen statewide joined them).

So Davis, who prides himself on the party's normally solid face of unity, has a problem dealing with party icons like Volker who are outspoken in opposing the governor. The two also part on their version of the party's core principles.

"The core principle of the Republican Party is not tax cuts; it's stable and responsible budgets," Volker said last week. "There's more to this issue than taxes. There's an issue of legislative prerogatives.

"We've told George he made a huge mistake in sending word to the chairmen. It was wrong," he added. "It wasn't a political decision. It was a government decision."

Volker prefers tax hikes to the drastic cuts in education and health care that would have either shuttered many hospitals and nursing homes, or raised the property tax to sustain them. He blames the whole rift on the business community's influence on Pataki and party leaders.

"The problem is the business community reaching into government," he said. "We can't run government like a business because of people -- people in nursing homes. And what if they don't have a home?"

And neither does he discount the idea that Pataki has enthusiastically embraced President Bush's tax-cutting philosophy, no matter what the effect on services.

Davis says this, too, shall pass. Volker agrees.

But any time staunch Republicans engage in nasty spats over "core principles" of the party, it's safe to assume it will require more than a striped shirt to settle. This one could go into overtime.

Speaking of Republican spats, Wednesday night's Tonawanda GOP meeting officially resulted in unanimous endorsement of Democrat-turned-Republican Chuck Swanick for re-election to the County Legislature. Given Swanick's backing by the Republican powers-that-be, that's to be expected.

But sources say the unanimous declaration resulted only after primary challenger Kevin Hardwick garnered a significant amount of support.

Who were those guys on the dais with Congressman Tom Reynolds?

Only President Bush and House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

The Clarence congressman sat between the president and the speaker Wednesday night before a congressional fund-raising dinner of more than 7,500 people in the Washington Convention Center. Reynolds landed the coveted spot as fund-raising chairman for House Republicans, and helped raise a record $22 million for House and Senate candidates this year.

There is no question Chairman Davis has his sites set on Democratic County Legislator Lynn Marinelli this year after party stalwarts dropped anti-Marinelli literature throughout the Tonawanda-based district for the fourth time already this year.

Davis is backing Martha Niland Lamparelli in his bid to upset Marinelli.


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