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Amherst Democrats set election tone by linking GOP candidates to Trump

If there was any doubt that chaotic Washington politics would be a central theme during local races this year in Amherst, that doubt was erased late last week.

On the same night the Amherst Republican Committee endorsed Town Clerk Marjory Jaeger for supervisor, the Erie County Democratic Committee issued a news release condemning the selection and branding her and town council candidate Erin Baker as "Team Trump."

Jaeger is a former state organizer for Draft Trump 2012. Meanwhile, Baker, chief of staff to Assemblyman Ray Walter, and her husband, Erie County Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy, met the future President Trump at a local Republican fundraiser and attended an inaugural ball after he won the presidency.

Local Democrats hope that won't play well in Amherst, which Trump lost by 11 points.

“The Amherst Republicans have shown themselves to be wildly out of touch by endorsing Team Trump for Town Board," town Democratic Chairman Jerome Schad said in the release. "Amherst voters know better. Amherst voters know Team Trump will take the Town in the wrong direction."

Now that both major parties have completed their endorsements, it's seen as the opening salvo in the races for supervisor and two of four council seats in Erie County's most populous town.

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Jaeger said she was involved in the ultimately unsuccessful effort to recruit Trump to run in 2012 because she was dissatisfied with the field of candidates.

"To call me 'Team Trump,' that's a pretty big stretch considering he wasn't even a candidate in 2012," she said.

She said she sat out the 2016 election to focus on her duties as town clerk, and didn't attend the 2016 GOP convention as a delegate or work on Trump's campaign.

"I didn't even have a lawn sign in 2016," said Jaeger, who was elected to her current position in 2011.

Baker called the Democrats' attack an attempt to score "cheap political points."

"It's no surprise that the Amherst Democrat Committee is trying to distract voters from the real issues in town," she said by email. "The Democrat majority town board voted to raise their own pay by 40% and raised taxes to do it. I am working incredibly hard to meet voters and listen to their concerns at the local level. I am concentrating on issues such as protecting green space, redeveloping aging commercial buildings, ensuring quality services and improving the quality of life for all residents."

The Democrats point out that Amherst went for Hillary Clinton by 11 percentage points over Trump. Of the 61,343 votes cast in November's general election, 52 percent – 31,705 – went to Clinton while 41 percent – 25,392 – were for Trump, according to the Erie County Board of Elections.

“Amherst voters spoke loud and clear in November; Trump’s values are not Amherst’s values,” Schad said in the release.

The president's approval rating is also tied at an all-time low of 38 percent, according to the latest Gallup poll. Democratic party leaders at the town and county level are hoping to use these numbers to their advantage in local races, including for Erie County sheriff, by linking Republican candidates to Trump.

Republican Sheriff Timothy B. Howard was criticized for appearing in uniform in April as a keynote speaker during the pro-Trump "Spirit of America" rally in Niagara Square.

"I think what's happened in Washington in the last six, seven months has really had an effect on local politics here," said Brendan F. O'Connor, campaign coordinator for the Erie County Democratic Committee.

Amherst Republicans last week also endorsed Joseph Spino for the other council seat. The Democrats, meanwhile, have endorsed Williamsville Mayor Brian J. Kulpa for supervisor, and Shawn Lavin and Jacqualine Berger for the council seats.

Democrats have the edge in party enrollment. Of 79,409 registered voters in the town, 41 percent are Democrats and 33 percent are Republicans, according to the latest numbers from the Board of Elections. Two percent of the voters are enrolled Conservatives. The rest are members of other minor parties or unaffiliated.

Jaeger, a registered Conservative, said those enrollment figures don't concern her because Amherst voters are "sophisticated" and don't vote the straight party line. She also said she's not worried about Democrats' efforts to tie her to Trump.

"That was 2012 and this is 2017," she said. "A lot of things have changed, obviously. I think Amherstonians understand the difference between a presidential campaign and a town supervisor campaign. One has nothing to do with the other."

Baker said, "It's sad that the people of Amherst haven't heard anything from my opponents until this senseless political attack. I'm focused on delivering for the residents of our town, not playing D.C. style politics."

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