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Reynolds, Davis campaign on the air but are not out on the trail Foley affair has Reynolds regrouping, while Davis feels face-to-face campaigning is not efficient

It's the hottest congressional race Buffalo has seen in years, but the candidates haven't been spending the week shaking hands or kissing babies.

Instead, for now at least, Jack Davis and Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds are duking it out over the airwaves and hunkering down behind closed doors.

Davis, the Democratic challenger who now leads in the polls, wants to stay hunkered down. The anti-trade businessman said face-to-face campaigning is not "an efficient use of my time and energy."

Meanwhile, Reynolds, R-Clarence, has stayed out of the limelight after the furor over former Rep. Mark Foley's advances to teenage male pages. Reynolds' spokesman said his public appearances will resume this weekend.

Political pros say it's unusual for candidates to shun the campaign trail less than four weeks before Election Day.

"I've never seen a campaign like this," said Richard F. Fenno, a political scientist at the University of Rochester who specializes in studying congressional campaigns.

As for Davis, "you don't see him anywhere," Fenno said.

That's by design. Davis said he feels more comfortable communicating through his ads. "That's why I've spent $1 million on radio and TV and direct advertising," he said.

As an engineer who has studied efficiency for 40 years, Davis said pressing the flesh just isn't his style even if that's what some of his supporters want.

"They think that every time there's a barbecue I should make it," he said. "That's old politics. I'd rather spend my time working or answering e-mails."

Yet that style is starting to prompt criticism. Salon.com columnist Walter Shapiro labeled Davis an "odd duck" after the candidate bailed out of an interview Monday to tend to a crisis at his company, I Squared R Element of Newstead. Shapiro reported that Davis then spent Tuesday meeting with a potential business client.

Even Ray Yacuzzo, the Genesee County Democratic chairman, said Davis needs to campaign more. "The sense I have is that people are fed up with Reynolds, but they don't really know Jack Davis," Yacuzzo said. "So I know a lot of people who are saying they're not going to vote. I think Jack really does have to get out there and be seen more."

Then again, Reynolds hasn't been glad-handing, either, since holding three news conferences last week.

Politicians often lie low when under fire, and that's what Reynolds has been doing ever since saying he warned House Speaker Dennis Hastert months ago that Foley had sent an oddly friendly e-mail to a 16-year-old youth. Reynolds later asked for Foley's resignation after learning that ABC was working on a story about salacious instant messages that Foley sent to other former House pages.

Despite the controversy, Fenno said: "If I were Reynolds, I'd get out there" on the campaign trail so that people don't think the candidate is in hiding.

The four-term congressman canceled a national television appearance last Sunday because of flulike symptoms. His spokesman, L.D. Platt, said Reynolds has spent much of this week catching up on private meetings.

"For three days last week, things got really tossed around," Platt said. "By the end of this week, we'll have more of a public schedule."

Platt said no debates have been scheduled yet in the race, but Kevin Hardwick, a political scientist at Canisius College, said he would be inviting both candidates to appear on his radio show.

"At some point, Davis has to come out and show his face and go at Tom Reynolds face to face on the issues," said Hardwick, a Republican.

e-mail: jzremski@buffnews.com and rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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