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Republican optimism is growing

Soon after the big Democratic sweep of 2008, political obituary pages everywhere overflowed with reports of the death of the Republican Party.

Like Mr. Twain said, those reports may have been greatly exaggerated.

And maybe the best place anywhere to view an alive and optimistic GOP was the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society a few nights ago.

That's where former Congressman Tom Reynolds and former Ambassador Tony Gioia gathered a few hundred of their closest friends to rake in more than $300,000 for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. It also didn't hurt to invite four U.S. senators -- John Cornyn of Texas, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

It was the only time in memory that four U.S. senators gathered together at one time in Buffalo.

It all means happier days for people like Jim Nicholson, onetime chairman of the Republican National Committee, who also served as ambassador to the Vatican and secretary of Veterans Affairs. He is a frequent subject of Politics Column interviews as a source of partisan yet thoughtful views.

In town for the big fundraiser, Nicholson predicted significant Republican gains in the Senate this fall. Four seats would be nice. Eight would be really nice.

As a student of national trends, Nicholson rose to the GOP's top post in the late '90s. So he recognizes that a combination of Barack Obama appeal and George W. Bush weariness dealt a major setback to the Republicans in 2008.

He also recognizes that independent voters helped make that happen. A major flip of those independents in 2010, he says, now fuels GOP optimism.

"It's all about a fear of spending, and the over-reach and intrusion of government," he said. "There's a real edge against free enterprise and the private sector."

Nicholson pointed to Republican Sharron Angle's 14-point lead over Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada. Yes, Nevada is viewed as Republican, he said. But independent voters are providing that bulge.

And don't forget the tea partyers, Nicholson said. They are organized and eager to vote. And Republicans like what they see.

"As chairman, I always used a biblical reference: 'We are a house of many rooms,' " he said. "We should embrace them because we all believe in more freedom, less taxes and a strong military."

"They are ordinary citizens who have finally reached this super-critical state and are coming out," he said. "The independents and the tea party types are really the same thing. It's not complicated."

Nicholson also warns that the government is piling up intolerable debt levels that will only haunt future generations. Others, like the GOP plethora of underdog Senate candidates in New York, are also singing that tune.

"We're on this false premise binge because interest rates are so historically low," Nicholson said. "All they've got to do is change a little bit and the cost of servicing this debt will become impossible."

Republican places like Nevada and Virginia make the GOP press releases these days. And of course, no self-respecting Republican overlooks neighboring Massachusetts and Scott Brown's amazing victory in January.

But while the GOP chose a blue New York for its big fundraiser a few nights ago, nobody is yet counting their challengers here among the four to eight seats viewed as possible gains.

Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand are not yet feeling Republican heat. But many other Democrats are, including big-timers like Nevada's Reid.

Republicans are feeling better about themselves. And $300,000 of upstate New York money makes them feel only better.

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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