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Davis fired up for second run against Reynolds

Jack Davis likes what he sees as he launches his second congressional candidacy against Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds.

A Republican president is foundering in the polls, scandal tinges big GOP names in Washington, and Democrats dream of gains in November. It's all new ammunition for a well-financed and high-profile effort against one of New York State's best-known politicians.

Already, the young campaign is sparking plenty of emotion. The 73-year-old industrialist from Akron broke down twice during the 22-minute speech launching his candidacy Thursday in Protocol Restaurant, Amherst.

He also responded angrily to Republicans who noted his violations of campaign finance laws.

"I didn't fill out the right line," he said. "It was nothing deceiving."

Instead, he focused on his opponent.

"It makes me emotional," Davis said as he paused to wipe his eyes after insisting that Reynolds "has broken his oath and betrayed the people he swore to protect and defend."

He needed to regain his composure one other time when he said U.S. forces should begin withdrawing from Iraq, mentioning he has a grandson serving with the Marines in Afghanistan.

For Davis, it's still mostly about free trade being at the root of the area's economic problems. He also said that illegal immigration should be curbed and that he will take a strong stand against pork-barrel spending.

But a lot has happened since 2004, when Davis lost by 11 percentage points to Reynolds, a GOP powerhouse who heads the campaign committee responsible for electing Republicans to the House of Representatives. Many political observers think that Davis will force a very busy campaign season on the incumbent from Clarence.

"I would expect this to be one of those two dozen districts that there will be a great deal of focus on," said James E. Campbell, a political scientist at the University at Buffalo. "Whether it will tilt one way or another is hard to say."

In his second time around, Davis has plenty of new material.

"Is collecting money for Republicans and becoming a political power broker what you the taxpayer elected him to do?" he asked.

"I am more qualified and a better man than my opponent," he added. "Compare education, military experience, management abilities, success in business and ethics or any other character traits that are important to you."

While Davis promised to work toward ending all free-trade agreements and reintroducing tariffs to spark U.S. manufacturing, he seized on the latest Republican problems. He invoked names like lobbyist Jack Abramoff; former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas; and disgraced former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham. While acknowledging no direct links, he said Reynolds is "associated with what some call Washington's culture of corruption."

"Reynolds' modus operandi and written remarks and quotes reveal his true intent," he said. "It is all about money, lust for power, getting re-elected and furthering his political career."

Republicans, meanwhile, have hammered away at Davis for flouting election law on several occasions and contend that he may be subject to still more penalties levied by the Federal Election Commission.

"The guy behaves as if he's above the law," said Reynolds spokesman L.D. Platt. "His obscene wealth does not mean he can choose the laws to obey. He has a reckless disregard for campaign finance laws that ought to land him in jail and not in a seat in Congress."

Davis acknowledged Thursday that he made mistakes in his last campaign, in which he spent about $1.2 million of his own money. But he said the mistakes were minor.

"It was what my wife said was stupidity," he said.

Davis enters the new campaign backed by some of the most respected names in the campaign business, including pollster Stan Greenberg and media consultant Hank Sheinkopf. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee staff members already are working on his campaign, another indication of the high profile it is expected to command.

"There will be a lot of outside money come into this on both sides," said UB's Campbell.

Davis' Democratic backers say their initial polling of 500 likely voters indicates 43 percent of them rating Reynolds' performance excellent or good, with 43 percent rating it fair or poor.

But neither Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee staff nor representatives of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research would release the poll's questions to determine how the survey was conducted. They also would not release Davis' recognition rating, a key benchmark factor in the campaign's early stage.

Davis acknowledged that at 73, compared with Reynolds' 55, he will face limitations on his campaign abilities.

He said his wife, Barbara, did not want him to mount another campaign, but he felt strongly enough about the free-trade issue to get involved again. "I'm one of the few people to understand the issue," he said. "I have the money, and I have the desire."

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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