Primaries whetting political appetites of Catt. County Democrats

Cattaraugus County Democratic Chairman Frank Puglisi is taking a wait-and-see stance so far regarding the Democrats’ race for the nomination to run for president.

Democratic presidential caucus and primary results from Iowa and New Hampshire have begun to whet the appetites of Cattaraugus County Democrats.

The New York Democratic Presidential primary is 10 weeks away — April 28. Slates of delegates pledged to various Democratic presidential candidates will be on the ballot.

Four years ago, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders won over Hillary Clinton in Cattaraugus County, 57% to 42%. There were 4,361 Democrats who turned out for the primary. Clinton, a former New York U.S. senator, won the state as a whole.

Frank Puglisi, Cattaraugus County Democratic Party chairman, said there hasn’t been much talk of presidential politics among committee members — yet.

As candidates with primary showings in the low single digits drop out, a five-person race is emerging, Puglisi said. That doesn’t include two billionaires.

Of the Democrats still in the presidential primary hunt, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar represent the moderate wing of the party, while Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren represent the progressive, or left, wing.

Skipping Iowa and New Hampshire, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is rising in national Democratic polls after spending hundreds of millions of dollars on TV advertising and assembling a paid staff of more than 2,000 people in only a few months.

Billionaire Tom Steyer is also trying to spend his way into Democratic relevancy in the primaries, with so far less success than Bloomberg.

“People aren’t talking much yet, but they are supporting a lot of different candidates,” Puglisi told the Olean Times Herald on Friday.

He’s heard from local supporters of moderates like Biden, Buttigieg and Klobuchar. There is also some support for progressives like Sanders and Warren.

“I am still deciding,” Puglisi said. “I’m leaning toward the moderate group of Biden, Klobuchar and Buttigieg.”

He thinks Klobuchar, the Minnesota senator who finished third in the New Hampshire primary, “really nailed it” in the last Democratic debate.

Puglisi thinks if Biden does well in Nevada and South Carolina, he’ll be in good position to do well on Super Tuesday (March 3) when more than a dozen states have primaries.

“I think the New York primary will still be in play” at the end of April, Puglisi added.

What about Bloomberg’s billion-dollar late entry into the primary process?

“I think Mike Bloomberg is a good thing for our party,” Puglisi said. “He has the money to go after Trump if he’s the nominee.”

If he’s not, Bloomberg has offered to continue to pay for his staff to work for the nominee until the November election, Puglisi said.

“I think people just want someone who can beat Donald Trump,” he said.

The president said one thing about saving Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security, then included cuts to the programs in his budget, Puglisi said. “That will affect everyday people in our county and our state.”

The 2020 presidential election will rely more than ever on voter turnout, Puglisi explained. New York is going blue (Democrat), but the Southern Tier — with the exception of Chautauqua County and Thompson County — is a sea of red (Republican) voters.

Puglisi said unlike four years ago, if Sanders is not the nominee, he must encourage his supporters to support and vote for the nominee. Party unity in this presidential election is critical, the county Democratic chairman said.

Puglisi said he’s keeping his powder dry for the time being: “I want to see what happens in the next couple of states before I make a final decision.”

Linda Witte, chair of the Olean City Democratic Committee, said people are beginning to talk about the New York presidential primary. “Some people are talking about it,” she said.

At the Olean Senior Center, some folks were concerned that after the candidates have been campaigning for much of the last year, other candidates are just now stepping up — including Bloomberg. There is a concern he would buy the election, Witte added.

“A lot of young people like Bernie because he seems to be anti-establishment,” said Witte, a former Olean mayor and currently serving as Ward 1’s Common Council member. “He doesn’t want to be status quo and he wants to help them with their student debt and their lives.”

Witte said Sanders, whom she once met in Vermont, “seems like someone’s grandpa. I like Bernie, but I really like (Klobuchar). She’s getting more comfortable campaigning and is speaking out more. Experience does matter.”

Warren is another candidate on Witte’s radar, but she and Biden seem to be sliding down in the primaries.

As far as Bloomberg, Witte said she’s open to his candidacy as well. “He has experience running the largest city on the East Coast. For all his faults, he did a lot of good for New York City.”

Witte said she hears a lot from people who haven’t settled on a candidate yet and “who just want to beat Trump. That’s where Bloomberg’s name comes up.”

Witte knows “a lot can happen between now and the New York Primary. We could have more candidates drop out.”

(Contact reporter Rick Miller at rmiller@oleantimesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)