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State Democratic Chairman Denny Farrell's home turf may be Manhattan, but he's getting awfully familiar with Buffalo these days. On Tuesday, Farrell found himself at Democratic Headquarters in Ellicott Square, at Brian Higgins' congressional campaign office on Abbott Road, and like lots of other Buffalonians, at Spot Coffee on Delaware Avenue -- not once, but twice.

Chicken wings aren't drawing Farrell to these parts. Brian Higgins is.

"I'm coming around just to show my support," he said. "Tommy Reynolds isn't going to get off lightly on this one."

The fact that the state Democratic chairman was in town to help Higgins, and the idea that he would invoke the name of a neighboring GOP congressman, demonstrate just how high the contest between Higgins and Republican Nancy Naples ranks on the big-time priority list.

Farrell was in town to dial for dollars and cajole as many of his upstate Assembly colleagues as possible for a maximum donation to the Higgins campaign. And he recognizes that Reynolds, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, is working just as hard to ensure the GOP retains a crucial seat right in his own back yard.

Indeed, the race continues to spend big bucks and gain the attention of some of the nation's top pols.

"This is one of the most important races for us in the country," said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland during a Monday press conference in Buffalo.

It's not just big names either. There are lots of professional political operatives dispatched to help both sides. Farrell has assigned Frank Hoare from his staff, while Assembly staffer and Buffalo native Frank Nemeth is also working on the campaign.

Higgins press secretary Suzanne Anziska comes from Congressman Joe Crowley of Queens, who has long ties to the South Buffalo political establishment.

There's a national flavor to the GOP side, too, with Cam Savage (who last worked for the Indiana secretary of state) running the Naples effort. And, as in any important race, Erie County Republican Chairman Bob Davis has dispatched trusted aide Gail Keil to the Naples office.

Still, Farrell's fund-raising for Higgins shows the Dems still need substantial dollars for the final push. In fact, Higgins sent a letter to supporters last week seeking one more surge of campaign funds -- almost $200,000 worth. "I can be outspent and win, but our campaign must close the fund-raising gap," Higgins pleaded.

Over in the Naples camp, the same concern is not so evident.

"Nancy Naples will not be lacking for resources in this campaign," said Reynolds.

All of this means the intensity will continue in the days ahead -- yet another sign that this one remains too close to call.

Three national pols made these predictions in Buffalo in recent days on the fate of the House of Representatives:

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi: "If the elections were held today, Democrats would take back Congress for the American people."

Minority Whip Steny Hoyer: "Chances (for a Democratic House) are good. Kerry has to win by a pretty good margin."

NRCC Chairman Tom Reynolds: "The House will remain Republican."

Pigeonista Purge Pops Parenti: Just a few weeks after mayoral hopeful Byron Brown fired former Erie County Democratic Chairman Steve Pigeon from his staff, the senator has now targeted longtime Pigeon aide Gary Parenti.

Brown sources say Parenti has resigned his $39,000 job because he retained ties to Pigeon, who is now persona non grata in the Brown camp as preparations for a 2005 mayoral campaign begin.

Parenti's name surfaced in the Philadelphia Daily News in recent days as treasurer of a "shadowy" political group planting signs in heavily Democratic areas of Philadelphia linking Republican Sen. Arlen Specter and Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. The reports indicate Kerry people aren't happy about the effort, and point to national Republican consultant Roger Stone as the mastermind.

Parenti is treasurer of the group. Specter is a Stone client. Pigeon and Parenti have long ties to Stone.