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Analysis

The political calendar may have changed, but voters' habits likely haven't

New York State’s 2019 primary is history, and now conventional political wisdom dictates that Democrats and Republicans immediately dive into the general election campaign ahead. Right?

Well, sort of.

Sure, voters on Tuesday decided several Democratic contests for seats in the County Legislature and Common Council, as well as a host of town races (even if a major computer glitch delayed results from being reported until well after 11 p.m. Tuesday). And also for sure, most of Erie County’s attention now shifts to the big election for county executive featuring incumbent Democrat Mark C. Poloncarz against Lynne M. Dixon, a county legislator from Hamburg running on the Republican and Independence lines.

But thanks to the new political calendar enacted early this year by the new Democratic State Legislature, Election Day looms far off in the future – Nov. 5. Now months lie ahead until the election, not the mere weeks that previously demanded an instant effort following the old Primary Day in mid-September.

Though the pols are eager to tear up the campaign trail, most voters are instead concentrating on the Fourth of July, vacations, picnics and trips to the beach. As a result, those in charge of compiling the rules of conventional political wisdom have long proclaimed that voters pay little attention to politics until Labor Day.

“In general, people get pretty sick of politics,” said Jennifer L. Hibit, who is managing the Poloncarz campaign. “When it comes to local races, people will start paying attention in the fall, just as they always have.”

So while Nov. 5 remains the goal, candidates and party leaders will be working behind the scenes preparing for those crisp fall days when politics gets real.

[Primary 2019: See results from races in Erie and Niagara counties]

Dixon, for example, said her campaign is already making plans to raise money, open a headquarters, recruit volunteers and schedule debates – even if shaking hands and kissing babies continues.

“Summer is an opportunity for families to enjoy time together and tune out,” she said. “That’s not to say I’ll take my eye off the ball. We’ll refocus."

“For now, it’s about continuing to fundraise, speak with people and get out our message,” she added. “I’m looking forward to these next four months. This is the fun part.”

Hibit said the Poloncarz campaign now plans for other innovations stemming from the new political calendar, including nine days of early voting before Nov. 5. In addition, she said the campaign will soon establish a headquarters, probably in Cheektowaga as in years past. Setting up shop in Cheektowaga is no accident, she acknowledged, since the Democratic suburb with a reputation for independent voters often proves a key battleground.

“It’s important,” she said.

Poloncarz has slated a July 15 fundraiser at a Buffalo Bisons game to sweeten his existing $445,000 campaign kitty. And then there’s the Independence Day parades, lawn fetes and festivals.

“Mark will be out and about at the churches and bingos,” she said. “He’s doing the campaign circuit.”

Dixon is also looking to enhance the more than $200,000 in campaign funds she reported in May – pronouncing the sum a sign of her competitiveness in the race. She has set her next major fundraising event for July 12 at Mickey Rat’s in Angola, collecting the significant dollars she will need for political ads on television. That, she says, will not pose a problem.

“It’s still the best way to reach as many people as we can in Erie County,” she said.

Dixon also expects to generate summertime interest within the next two or three weeks by opening a campaign headquarters, tentatively set for West Seneca – another possible swing town.

Both campaigns also anticipate the traditional debates that loom as key events in a local campaign. Dixon mentioned the annual affair slated by St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute in Kenmore, as well as the possibility of a televised debate broadcast from WNED studios. Both have marked earlier campaigns for county executive.

Hibit said the Poloncarz campaign is making the same preparations.

“I would hope we have them,” she said. “The county executive is happy to talk about his record and plans for the next term.”

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