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Sorting out potential challengers

Who’s in? Who’s out? Here’s a rundown of what we know – and don’t know – about 2014 candidates for office on this February Sunday:

• Tim Kennedy is running for re-election in the State Senate’s 63rd District, and there’s no question about that. The Democratic senator, who squeaked to a primary victory over County Legislator Betty Jean Grant in 2012, is everywhere in recent weeks as he launches another tough campaign.

If Kennedy learns you’re meeting a friend for lunch between now and Primary Day, chances are he’ll show up seeking votes.

Grant, also, is very much moving toward November. The Legislature’s minority leader showed she means business by recently meeting with Sen. Jeff Klein of the Bronx, leader of the Independent Democratic Caucus that shares majority power with Senate Republicans. Though Grant made no commitments, Klein promised the kind of help she lacked in her last effort against Kennedy.

But the real question surrounds former Sen. Antoine Thompson, who is eyeing a Democratic comeback but has made no decisions. Sources close to Thompson confirm a Challenger report earlier this month indicating he and Grant realize they cannot split the district’s African-American vote against the incumbent, and that one or the other will emerge as Kennedy’s opponent.

The sources say the plan is for Grant and Thompson to meet this spring, assess their community support, and join forces against the incumbent. That’s the plan, anyway.

“Whoever has the most support from the community is the one who will run,” the Thompson source said. “We believe it to be us.”

• Speaking of Senate races, questions also surround a Democratic opponent for Republican incumbent Mark Grisanti of Buffalo. While Republican Kevin Stocker is already campaigning door-to-door and Legislator Kevin Hardwick makes serious noises about a primary, the Dems are lying low.

North Council Member Joe Golombek is often mentioned, while The Buffalo News reported that a Grisanti emissary had even discussed his candidacy on the Democratic line to no avail. Democratic sources say to stay tuned, that a candidate will soon emerge.

But for a district that still boasts a 2-to-1 Democratic enrollment advantage, the absence of a Democratic stampede of candidates proves an official head-scratcher.

• James O’Donnell, a Buffalo police officer and attorney who lives in Orchard Park, continues to emerge as the Democrats’ best – and only – hope of challenging Republican incumbent Chris Collins in the 27th Congressional District this year. Because of the advanced calendar for federal elections looming again this year, designating petitions are set to hit the streets next week.

So far, the 28-year-old O’Donnell is the only guy out there. He is emphasizing to potential supporters a resume featuring “roofer, sider, security guard, waiter, bartender, busboy, real estate agent, banker, salesman, banquet server, cop and attorney.”

O’Donnell now seeks to add “congressman” to the long list.

• If O’Donnell faces long odds in Collins’ overwhelming Republican advantage, the GOP faces similar problems finding a candidate against Rep. Brian Higgins and his super-Democratic district. Nevertheless, Erie County Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy promises his party will offer a Higgins opponent.

• Though the Democrats could field a baseball team with those interested in succeeding Lynn Marinelli in the County Legislature, all reports indicate no candidate can yet score enough support to even schedule a vote.

All of this, say Dems watching the process, reflects the disarray governing a party wracked by a host of warring factions. It also explains why no Democratic candidate has yet emerged to challenge County Clerk Chris Jacobs, Sens. Pat Gallivan and Mike Ranzenhofer, or Assemblywoman Jane Corwin.

“Nobody wants to even get involved,” said one Dem insider, “until the party gets more organized.”