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Erie County's three countywide races will be won — or lost — in the suburbs

When Erie County polls open on Nov. 7, voters probably won't encounter the long lines that they saw in the 2016 presidential election.

Voter enthusiasm over countywide contests for comptroller, clerk and sheriff is gauged as low, while a dearth of races in the City of Buffalo is tamping down any expectations of substantial turnout there.

Amherst, Hamburg and Lancaster are the major battlegrounds this year. And those towns are expected to send the highest percentage of voters to the polls to decide races for supervisor, town council and some suburban-based county Legislature seats.

That is why the suburban voters, who represent 2/3 of the county electorate, will hold the deciding edge in the three countywide contests, as well as the legislative races that will determine control of County Hall.

“The battleground areas will be areas like Amherst and the Town of Lancaster and the Town of Hamburg,” said Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner. “We’re focusing.”

His Republican counterpart, Nicholas A. Langworthy, notes that voters in several key towns will determine town board majorities on Nov. 7.

Look no further than Amherst. Although Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 7,000, he believes its voters will tilt rightward.

“The performance of the towns in state and local elections tends to favor conservative candidates,” Langworthy said.

Marjory H. Jaeger and Brian J. Kulpa.

Amherst is crucial battleground territory. Two well known figures — Republican Marjory H. Jaeger and Democrat Brian J. Kulpa — are competing to succeed Republican Barry A. Weinstein as supervisor. Two seats on the Town Council also are on the ballot, all in the county’s second most populous municipality.

And Republicans are concentrating resources and strategy in Amherst. Several Republicans switched registration to Conservative last year to boost the likelihood of unified tickets and prevent Conservatives from running against Republicans.

Particular GOP attention also focuses on the Council candidacy of Erin K. Baker, who happens to be Langworthy’s wife.

The chairman calls Amherst the county’s “quintessential swing town.”

“It splits its ticket like no other town I’ve ever seen,” he said, noting that in 2016, Amherst cast its presidential vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton while turning to Republican Michael H. Ranzenhofer for state Senate.

James M. Shaw and Dennis Gaughan.

Hamburg, meanwhile, maintains a Democratic overlay of almost 5,000 voters, but will replace an outgoing Republican supervisor in a race between the GOP’s Dennis Gaughan and Democrat James M. Shaw. Three Council candidates also appear on the ballot.

And in Lancaster, where Democrats hold a registration edge of more than 2,000 voters, residents will elect two Council members.

Zellner maintains that his organization continues strong get-out-the-vote efforts in the City of Buffalo despite the fact that the September Democratic primary effectively decided the marquee mayoral election for incumbent Byron W. Brown.

“The countywide offices touch the city, too,” he said, referring especially to the race for sheriff between incumbent Republican Timothy B. Howard and Democrat Bernard A. Tolbert.

“The jail is in the city, and a lot of people who are affected by the Sheriff’s Office one way or another are in the city,” Zellner added. “I think the city has a lot to count for and vote for. But the battlegrounds will be in areas like Amherst, the Town of Lancaster and the Town of Hamburg.”

Republicans inserted only a “placeholder” candidate on their Buffalo mayoral line this year, maintaining a pattern in which they run few or no candidates in the Democratic city while hoping to boost chances that suburbanites will vote Republican for countywide offices.

“I had no one who wanted to run in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans 7 1/2 to 1,” Langworthy said. “It’s the reality of the city.”

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