Chris Collins remains very much an unannounced candidate, but for all intents and purposes, his campaign for re-election began last week.
The county executive conducted a high-profile county budget campaign against the County Legislature's Democratic opposition. And, just as he calculated, got much of what he wanted.
His Collins for Our Future political organization wasted no time crowing over his refusal to fund smaller cultural organizations while avoiding new taxes.
Pure Collins. It's what he said he would do when he campaigned in 2007. And so far, there are no mobs with torches and pitchforks.
And while you can argue whether he won or lost by staring down the Legislature, he certainly exploited the opportunity to portray himself as the hard-boiled executive running Erie County. The suspicion here is that is exactly what reflects well in his polling, and on that score he chalked up a victory.
It all amounts to a tough situation for Erie County Democrats. They complain about his approach. They say he acts like a dictator. And they whisper that it's all aimed at another foray into statewide politics.
But the cultural funding controversy certainly has not spawned a stampede to oppose Collins in 2011. County Clerk Kathy Hochul is laying low. And on what would she base a campaign? That Collins didn't raise taxes?
Comptroller Mark Poloncarz is making noise with a unique campaign slogan: "The county executive hates me."
Collins, meanwhile, begins with a startling $1.3 million in the bank (much of it still his own money), with access to more. His trusted political adviser -- Lancaster native Michael Hook -- is back on board.
And sources say Hook is already shoring up relations with the Conservative Party, which supported Democrat Jim Keane last time around. But the party has been setting the stage to embrace Collins ever since the day after election 2007.
None of this says the Democrats won't field a top-notch candidate. Hochul and Poloncarz remain very much in the picture. And maybe a dark horse (many suggest a female) could emerge.
But there is no question that after his budget success last week, Collins is crowing louder than ever.
Democrats take solace in that. Collins' inappropriate comments torpedoed his dalliance with running for governor in 2010. They now say: "Talk away, Chris."
*Speaking of Conservatives and speaking of crowing, look no further than Erie County Chairman Ralph Lorigo.
A major champion of Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, Lorigo is reminding statewide Conservatives that he predicted the Buffalo developer would prove a vote magnet on the line. Endorsed candidate Rick Lazio, he said, would fail to generate the 50,000 votes needed for permanent ballot status -- let alone move to the top minor-party spot.
In addition, Conservatives point out their line provided the winning margin for both Tim Kennedy and Mark Grisanti in two local Senate races.
Still on Kennedy, the senator-elect resigned his post in the Legislature earlier this month and as a result avoided last week's budget ballots. Hey -- if you quit the Legislature, you can't anger former ally Collins and you can't anger your own Democrats, right?
*Conservative honcho Billy Delmont says he has been approached by Jack O'Donnell, a media consultant employed by lobbying firm Bolton-St. Johns, to buy his Front Page and South Buffalo News newspapers.
O'Donnell said a Lackawanna businessman has joined him to explore the purchase, which he said will not be part of his political activities or an arm of his new political website -- Democratic Action WNY.
"It seems to me local newspapers are still growing," he said, adding he expects Delmont will remain as publisher.
Get the latest from the campaign trail at the Politics Now blog on buffalonews.com