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Presidential campaign hits WNY

If you're a devotee of presidential campaigns and politics, mark your calendar for Friday evening. That's when the 2012 presidential effort – at least as far as Buffalo and upstate New York are concerned – will begin and end.

Once again, Buffalo businessmen Tony Gioia and Mark Hamister will summon a few hundred of their closest friends to the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society for a major fund-raiser – this time for Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

And Romney himself will preside over actual presidential campaigning in New York – a rare event ranking with solar eclipses and Sabres playoff appearances.

That's because New York is among the bluest of blue states – so Democratic that Romney will brush it off while Obama inks it in. As a result, the former governor of Massachusetts may deign to wave to a few of the faithful on his way from the airport on Friday. But there will be no reason to spend time or money in this Democratic stronghold. That's the way it's been in New York ever since Ronald Reagan last claimed New York for the GOP back in 1984.

Still, Republican sources say they are counting on more than $1 million from the Buffalo soiree. That ranks even better than the last affair Gioia and Co. threw at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery for 2008 GOP candidate John McCain.

And unless you fork over $2,500 or $5,000 to attend the Historical Society event, or $10,000 to join Romney for dinner at the nearby home of Gioia and his wife, Donna, even the most ardent Romney fans around here probably won't even glimpse the presumed 2012 nominee.

Nevertheless, New Yorkers like Gioia and Hamister – and a whole bunch of their counterparts in New York City – still carry influence. A $1 million affair like the Friday event here amounts to lunch money compared to some Big Town events, but Romney seems amenable to stating his case even in ulta-Democratic Erie County. Gioia, meanwhile, might qualify for a Ph.D. in raising big bucks. Top Republicans like Al D'Amato, Rudy Giuliani, George H.W. Bush and McCain have over the years all sat under the big tent in his back yard.

And it could be argued Gioia now ranks as the most successful political fund-raiser – Democrat or Republican – in Western New York history. The process was not a simple one. The uber-Republican former ambassador to Malta approached the 2012 election year with really only one conviction: he did not like Obama. So it was no secret that a host of potential presidential candidates were aware of his fund-raising abilities and sought him out to talk.

They included former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and South Dakota Sen. John Thune – all at one time candidates or close to being candidates. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie came out for Romney, the ambassador was impressed. Gioia settled on Romney. "I thought Romney had all the skills and credentials to be president," Gioia has said throughout the campaign process. "He has a business background, knows economics and has been a tremendous leader in both the private and public sectors.

"This guy has accomplished some things; it's not just smoke and mirrors," he said, again wasting no opportunity to express his feelings on the 44th president.

There are those who would argue there are better uses for more than $1 million in the nation's third poorest city. They may be right.

But Gioia, Hamister and their committee have become the best there is in finding money – lots of it – in a town lacking its share of Manhattan millionaires. And because of that, Buffalo will experience a dose – even if just a particle – of presidential campaigning in 2012.