Former Erie County Sheriff Patrick M. Gallivan seemed to be gaining traction as the heir apparent Tuesday in the heavily Republican four-county district that retiring State Sen. Dale M. Volker has represented for nearly 40 years.
With 82 percent of precincts reporting, Gallivan was leading his two opponents with 37 percent of ballots cast in the 59th District, which stretches across parts of Erie, Wyoming, Livingston and Ontario counties.
Votes totaled 6,649 for Gallivan, 6,051 for James P. Domagalski and 5,244 for David J. DiPietro.
Gallivan's name recognition in Erie County and background in law enforcement appear to have given him a much-needed upper hand in a race in which he had raised less money and was subjected to numerous attack pieces and ads by Domagalski, a business lawyer and former chairman of the Erie County Republican Party.
In Erie County, Gallivan initially was in a dead heat with Domagalski, but Domagalski later appeared to pull ahead. Still, Gallivan held a great advantage over Domagalski in the other three counties, which have been staunchly loyal to Volker over the years.
Positioned as Gallivan's lead opponent, Domagalski seemed unable to gain traction as a first-time candidate despite spending more than $200,000 on the race -- compared with about $85,000 by Gallivan -- and aggressively campaigning throughout the district.
Domagalski hammered Gallivan for collecting his law enforcement pension while making $101,600 as a member of the State Parole Board, a patronage position.
But tarnishing Gallivan's reputation with voters has proved difficult throughout the campaign.
Domagalski has had trouble shaking the "party boss" tag even though he received no pay for his four years as Erie County Republican Party chairman.
More surprising was the showing by DiPietro, the former East Aurora mayor. The "tea party" favorite struggled to raise funds and was abandoned late in the campaign by gubernatorial candidate Carl P. Paladino.
Yet in the incomplete returns, DiPietro managed to garner 30 percent of the vote districtwide and held the lead in Wyoming County, attesting to the voting power of the local grass-roots movement.