WASHINGTON – Though Republican Jack Quinn (search) has been a popular figure in New York's 27th Congressional District (search) for the last decade, Democrats have seized on his unexpected retirement to pursue strongly the seat in this Democrat-dominated area.
Quinn announced his retirement in April. The GOP quickly united behind popular Erie County Comptroller Nancy Naples (search).
The 27th District includes two-thirds of Buffalo as well as much of the Erie and Chautauqua County suburbs southeast of the city. Democrats there outnumber Republican voters by at least 70,000. In Erie County, Republicans have an even greater disadvantage than the district as a whole, but Naples brings hope, having been elected there three times.
Meanwhile, at least five Democrats are competing for the nomination in the Sept. 14 primary – a late date by any standards – leaving them to slug it out politically over the rest of the long hot summer.
The status? Pretty much a toss-up, one of the few in the country, said Nathan Gonzales, an analyst for Rothenbergpoliticalreport.com.
"Overall, this is a difficult seat for Republicans to hold," Gonzales told FOXNews.com. "But they avoided a tough primary."
Gonzales said by rallying early behind Naples, who has raised nearly $500,000 so far, the Republicans are making gains fast.
But where Quinn enjoyed the support of the district’s labor unions, Naples will have to go without, leaving her to bank on her endorsement from Quinn and the favor of county voters who make up about 80 percent of the district.
"I know everybody talks about the odds I have, but I think I have the trust of the people of western New York," she told FOXNews.com.
"I’m a proven vote getter," the former Wall Street executive added.
Of course, the other side's candidates are no political slackers either. The Democratic candidates include West Seneca Town Supervisor Paul Clark (search); State Assemblyman Brian Higgins (search); Chautauqua County Executive Mark Thomas (search) and attorneys Mike Collesano (search) and Peter Crotty.
Higgins, who has garnered coveted union support, has been endorsed by the Erie County Democratic Committee. Thomas, the only candidate representing the more rural Chautauqua County, was endorsed by the Chautauqua County Democratic Party.
"We are very hopeful," said Sally Smith, chairwoman of the local Chautauqua Democrats. "It’s all going to boil down to getting the vote out for the primary."
Party affiliations and talking points aside, a major issue on the tongue of each candidate is the decline in jobs and population in the greater Buffalo area over the last several decades. Manufacturing has faded and attempts to gentrify the city have been slow at best, they say. Children grow up here but they don’t stay, with nothing there to keep them.
"We are losing our young people disproportionately," said Higgins, who said he has been trying his best for six years at the state capital to bring resources back to the district. He said people there blame Republican policies that have afforded "tax cuts to the super rich," while jobs continue to bleed out of the area.
"The Republicans had their opportunity," he added.
Collesano said all of the "career politicians" have had their chance. Talk and the movement of cash haven't brought jobs, particularly in the much ballyhooed waterfront projects in Buffalo.
"People want change — the sentiment I’ve received campaigning indicates that it’s overwhelmingly in that direction," Collesano said.
Clark said he doesn’t consider himself a career politician, rather an experienced public servant. "I’m basically a certified public accountant who became town supervisor," he said, noting his financial and tax expertise, a record in creating jobs, balancing budgets and bringing factions together.
"My ability to get people in the same room, which I have done time after time and again with people, to help create jobs … those are qualities I think I have and it’s what I can offer."
Meanwhile, Thomas is hoping the Erie County candidates will split the vote for him and he can take all of the more rural Chautauqua County. That way, he can slip in as the underdog and win the nomination.
"We’re not shy about saying we think we can win this race," he said. "If I thought I was jumping into a race I would lose based on sheer numbers I wouldn’t do it."
He said a Democrat must win Quinn’s old seat if the district wants to stem the loss of jobs and improve things like health care coverage for families. "I think simply that this country is going in the wrong direction."
Still, national Republicans believe that Naples can keep this seat among the GOP’s ranks, despite the rhetoric from the other side. "The Democrats have a very fractured, bitter primary going on, and it’s late," said Bo Harmon, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. "It makes it much tougher for the Democrats to unify behind a candidate especially when the Republican is someone like Naples, who has a history of attracting the Democratic vote."
But Gonzales warns that it might not be as easy for Naples to make the transition from comptroller candidate to congressional candidate.
"This is a different race for a different office," Gonzales said. This is also a district that went solidly for Vice President Al Gore over then-Gov. George W. Bush in 2000, 53 to 41 percent.
"It’s a tough road for Republicans," he said.