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Poloncarz turns to rally, Dixon to video to get campaign rolling

When Democrat Mark C. Poloncarz announced his bid for a third term as county executive last month, he rolled out all the advantages of incumbency: Three hundred supporters at party headquarters, glowing praise from Mayor Byron W. Brown, campaign signs, speeches and lots of hoopla.

Republican-backed Lynne M. Dixon took a far different approach later in the month.  She revealed her candidacy to The Buffalo News in a Hamburg coffee shop, then made the rounds of radio and television the next day, all the while introducing herself in a laid-back video aimed at social media.

The two events underscore the polar opposite approaches of each candidate as the campaign season kicks off:

• Poloncarz the seasoned incumbent, rallying the Democratic establishment, ready to emphasize his accomplishments and spend the hundreds of thousands of campaign dollars required to win in a big county such as Erie.

• Dixon the scrappy challenger from Hamburg, a single mother balancing the demands of a campaign and parenting four children. She emphasizes her Independence minor party affiliation but calls scant attention to her GOP backing in overwhelmingly Democratic Erie County.

With little money to start, she is expected to parlay her 22 years of experience as a radio and television journalist into a polished social media presence, hoping to attract the resources she needs to compete.

So far, both sides say they like where they are.

“Lynne’s video says something about her candidacy — it’s different,” said Christopher M. Grant, the Buffalo campaign consultant who produced the spot. “She’s the first woman candidate for county executive, she’s a single working mom, and she’s a registered Independent representing a Democratic district.

“The candidate understands it — she has a story to tell,” he added. “And people are already resonating with it.”

Grant thinks Dixon’s introductory video, set in a gracious living room as she tells her family’s story, is a hit. It tells the story of her late father and his Navy service during World War II, features a large brood of Dixon siblings, and dwells on sending her oldest child off to preschool on Sept. 11, 2001.

“In those two hours he was at school, everything changed," Dixon says in the video. "But you know what was beautiful about it? Everyone came together. Democrats and Republicans alike. We don’t have leaders like that anymore. Instead, we have politicians that are pushing political agendas that are costing us jobs and opportunities. I think voters are sick of politicians like that.”

Grant, who serves on Republican campaigns around the country, said the video and two shorter companion pieces gained 43,000 views across various Internet platforms, with Facebook data showing its best viewership among women 35- to 54-years-old.

Erie County Legislator Lynne Dixon, GOP-backed candidate for Erie County executive, mingles with guests during a gun raffle at the Jamison Road Volunteer Fire Company in Elma, March 9. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

That compares to 12,000 views when former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker launched his presidential campaign in 2016, he said, citing a staffer who worked on the effort.

It all translates, Grant said, into $100,000 to $150,000 worth of free broadcast, newspaper and internet stories spurred by the video.

“We got that just by doing it this way,” he said, adding the campaign took in contributions in the “five figures” in the days after the video first aired.

Grant also said Dixon's campaign will emphasize the successful metrics to attract contributions for radio and television they hope to eventually air as part of a “holistic approach.”

“It shows that people see an old rally as political,” he said, noting that the former Channel 2 reporter will make more use of video and social media as the campaign progresses.

“She is formidable on TV; the camera loves her,” he said. “And she knows how to tell a story.”

Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz officially kicks off his campaign for re-election to a third term at 701 Seneca St., in Buffalo, Feb. 9 before hundreds of supporters. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

But Poloncarz staffers are already looking to showcase their candidate in myriad ways — newspapers, broadcast, social media and retail politicking.

Spokesman Peter Anderson calls it “ironic” that Republicans tout Dixon’s social media prowess when she regularly derides the county executive’s extensive presence on Twitter.

“Were those paid for? How many Erie County voters watched?” he asked of the Dixon claims. “On any given day, Mark tweets and 2,000 people see it.”

He noted that 1,200 viewers watched Poloncarz’s announcement live on social media, with 1,500 replays since.

“And on the day that Lynne announced we got quite a few donors from Hamburg,” noted Jennifer L. Hibit, another Poloncarz staffer.

The Poloncarz announcement on Feb. 9, meanwhile, may hint at much of the incumbent’s re-election theme as he emphasizes new jobs and economic development on his watch.

“On the day I was sworn in as executive, the county’s unemployment rate was 8.9 percent,” he said at his announcement, “and by the end of 2018 it was reduced to 3.9 percent, the lowest rate in more than three decades.”

Anderson and Hibit dismiss Dixon camp claims that Poloncarz is reacting to a strong start by his opponent. They say the county executive is campaigning by doing his job, will emphasize his role in attracting jobs to Erie County, and will unveil a future agenda in his State of the County address on March 27. It is expected to come across as a “where we’ve been and where we’re going” speech, they said.

“The county executive is proud of his record and will run on it,” Hibit said.

In the meantime, Hibit and Anderson say Poloncarz will continue to embrace his social media presence by being ubiquitous on Twitter. And they are counting on having the money needed to fuel the traditional broadcast ads still considered essential to local politics.

“Mark knows that as well as anyone,” Anderson said of the county executive’s eager embrace of social media, “as well as the traditional newspaper, radio, TV and face-to-face.”

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