Throughout their bitter congressional campaign, Jack Davis, the Democratic challenger, and Thomas M. Reynolds, the Republican incumbent, had appeared eager to face each other, and neither wasted the opportunity Monday night.
In a spirited discussion during a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Buffalo/Niagara in Clarence Town Hall, Davis questioned Reynolds' character in the congressional page scandal involving former Rep. Mark A. Foley of Florida, and Reynolds portrayed Davis's anti-free trade ideas as "dangerous."
Before the standing-room-only crowd that hooted and hollered throughout the meeting, they confirmed what almost $7 million in political advertising has told Western New Yorkers: They don't like each other.
"Personally, I don't trust him anymore," Davis said after the 30-minute session. "Not after the lies he told about me -- but for his handling of the Foley affair and his relationship with [former House Majority Leader Tom] DeLay and [lobbyist Jack] Abramoff. These are things that should have been taken care of, not covered up."
Reynolds said he would leave discussing Davis' character "for another day" but again dismissed his opponent's philosophy against free trade as harmful to a region in which he claimed 20 percent of manufacturing jobs depend on export sales.
"The choice is between a proven leader with experience and the wherewithal to lead or a candidate who offers contradicting positions and dangerous double speak," Reynolds said.
The candidates also offered clear choices in style. Davis continually emphasized his private sector experience and the fact that, outside the military, he never has drawn a government paycheck. He is not a politician, he said, charging that Reynolds is beholden to interests outside Western New York that have contributed $4 million to his campaign -- a figure that Reynolds' camp disputed.
"Ask yourself the next time you hear one of his ads, 'What is he selling?' " Davis said. "I cannot be bought."
While Davis emphasized his inexperience in politics, Reynolds did just the opposite. He pointed to more than 30 years as a town board member, county legislator, assemblyman and congressman as his top credentials. He also did not shy away from flexing his political muscles in front of the crowd as he touted his role in obtaining federal disaster assistance following the Oct. 12-13 snowstorm or a role Monday in persuading BernzOmatic Corp. to remain in Medina.
"We can compete with our world-class employees against anyone, and BernzOmatic proves it," he said in another shot at Davis' protectionist philosophy.
He also employed the famous Ronald Reagan line when Davis said he would continue funding area first responder needs -- which he later clarified to be on an "overall basis."
"There he goes again," Reynolds said, referring to Davis' earlier assertions that he opposes federal funds for such local purchases as fire trucks. "The fact is, Jack Davis is pretty politically expedient in whatever answer fits for the day."
Both exhibited clear differences in a host of other issues, as Reynolds elicited loud cheers for his pro-life views and Davis said he simply had more important topics to discuss than same sex marriage.