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Million-dollar buzz

Just as the Politics Column highlighted last week, Buffalo and all New York will be watching this year's presidential campaign from the sidelines as battleground states grab the headlines.

New York? So Democratic that even the most optimistic Republican on the sun-shiniest day of the summer harbors no hint of hope for Mitt Romney this year. Still, lots of Republican dollars remain floating around one of the nation's poorest towns. That's why businessmen Tony Gioia and Mark Hamister have invited a few zillion of their closest friends to the event they plan for Romney at the Burchfield Penney Art Center on June 15.

The area's top GOP money men remain mum on how much they might raise for the former Massachusetts governor. But the last presidential fundraiser in Buffalo -- for John McCain in 2008 -- raked in more than $1 million. So Romney won't mind visiting a state he knows he can't win.

In preparation for the event, the Republican National Committee's top fundraiser -- Ron Weiser of Michigan -- will be in our town Tuesday. The former ambassador to Slovenia, Weiser is looking past Tuesday's presidential primary in New York. His job is to get the money needed to elect Romney.

As a result, he and former Rep. Bill Paxon, R-Amherst, will headline a "friend raiser" at the Buffalo Club aimed at potential high-end donors.

"I'll talk about how we're doing and how Obama is doing and how important it is for people who are able to contribute and who are in the financial position to contribute," Weiser told the Politics Column a few days ago.

A formidable task lies ahead of the ambassador. For the second election in a row, Barack Obama is expected to raise more than $1 billion. And while the president has quietly raked in big sums through dozens of fundraisers over the last 3 1/2 years, Romney had to fend off a band of pesky Republican challengers through a long primary season. Now Romney has to replenish the coffers to have any chance.

"We need to make sure this election is decided by the policies and record of Obama and not because one candidate has a huge lead in fundraising over another," Weiser said. The idea for Tuesday, he added, is to create a buzz around the June 15 affair. And Weiser acknowledges the abilities of the opposition in at least one department.

"I have to give him credit," Weiser said. "He's the best fundraising president we've ever had."


*Speaking of fundraisers, word had already spread about a major affair for Gov. Andrew Cuomo slated for Buffalo on Friday. This one was "serious" $5,000 a pop. But a "scheduling conflict" has postponed that event for now.

*Looks like an official GOP fracas is under way for the Assembly seat now held by retiring Republican Dan Burling. So far Assemblyman Kevin Smardz of Hamburg is backed by Evans Republicans; Elma Republicans support David Mariacher of their town; and the Aurora GOP is with former East Aurora Mayor David DiPietro. Chris Lane of East Aurora has also declared his candidacy.

*When presidential candidate Newt Gingrich took to the stage in Ellicott Square Friday afternoon, it wasn't the first time the grand old edifice hosted those who have run for the presidency.

Veteran observers remember Robert Kennedy addressing a crowd in the ornate atrium while running for the Senate in 1964. Sen. John Kerry drew a huge crowd while competing in the New York Democratic primary in 2004, and so did former President Bill Clinton while campaigning for his wife -- then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton -- in 2008. Hillary Clinton also spoke there in 2008 on behalf of local Democratic candidates for the House.