An unprecedented gathering of four U. S. senators — including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky — highlighted a fundraiser Friday evening in the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society.
The event, according to sources, raked in more than $250,000 for Republican senatorial candidates around the nation.
Also at the event — which cost up to $25,000 to attend — were Sens. Jon Cornyn of Texas, who is chairman of the National Senatorial Campaign Committee; Jeff Sessions of Alabama; and Bob Corker of Tennessee.
The gathering marked the first time in the memory of even the most veteran political observers that four U. S. senators convened in Buffalo at the same time.
But history served only as a footnote to the organizers, focused on collecting as many upstate New York contributions as possible.
Republican strategists hope to pick off at least four and as many as eight Senate seats around the nation in November in what many observers say could be a GOP year.
"There are so many people who voted for [President] Obama who now have buyer's remorse," said businessman Anthony
H. Gioia, the former ambassador to Malta who has long served as a major GOP fundraiser. "So there's been an outpouring of support from Buffalo and beyond."
Former Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, R-Clarence, joined Gioia in leading the event. He also is a veteran fundraiser for GOP causes and once headed the national panel charged with electing Republicans to the House of Representatives.
"Jon Cornyn has done a superb job in recruiting candidates," he said. "Having the money to get their message out is vitally important."
It all reflected a growing optimism among Republicans over regaining some of the congressional seats they lost in the big Democratic year of 2008.
R. James Nicholson, the former Republican national chairman, who also attended the event, told The Buffalo News in an interview that gubernatorial victories by Chris Christie in New Jersey and Bob McDonnell in Virginia, combined with Scott Brown's Senate win in Massachusetts last January, render "premature" the obituaries for the GOP written after the 2008 losses.
"In each of those cases, those states voted 2 to 1 in favor of Obama and strongly for Brown," said Nicholson, also chairman of the Majority Makers organization, which seeks major donors to the Senate campaign. "The big plan is for the independent voter. They are disaffected and they're in play. That's where we base our opportunity."
The event did not escape the attention of the New York State Democratic Committee, which Friday called on McConnell and company to "disinvite" Republican gubernatorial Carl P. Paladino of Buffalo, who was expected to attend.
They returned to the e-mail controversy that has dogged Paladino since April when a local Web site published racist and pornographic e-mails the candidate acknowledged forwarding to a group of friends.
"Surely, they recognize the message they're sending by appearing with this guy and letting him pony up money to attend tonight's event," said June O'Neill, chairwoman of the party's executive committee.
The Democrats said Paladino has now given almost $8,000 to national Republicans.
Paladino spokesman Michael
R. Caputo quickly responded.
"How can they call for the return of any campaign cash while their own candidate for governor is lousy with hundreds of thousands in pay-to-play campaign donations from Wall Street manipulators like John Paulson and Kenneth Starr?" he said. "Simply put: glass houses — stones.
Those at the fundraiser included Gary Berntsen, the endorsed Republican candidate for the Senate seat now held by Charles E. Schumer, a Democrat.