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Chris Lee's cautious campaign may not be the path to victory

By Howard B. Owens

It seems inconceivable to that Chris Lee, a well-funded, wealthy, hand-picked GOP candidate in a marginally Republican district, could lose the 26th congressional race.

I haven't seen any polls to suggest he could lose, but it seems Alice Kryzan, the Democrat's nominee, is putting up a good fight.

If Lee loses, it could come in part because of a GOP backlash over the war and the economy, but even in a relatively safe district like the 26th Lee probably couldn't lose to a progressive Democrat unless he did himself in.

Which is why, I suspect, his GOP handlers have him running a safe, cautious campaign.

But it is exactly such a campaign that could prove his undoing.

Lee's conduct of his campaign should also have us asking hard questions about his fitness to be a leader in Western New York.

It's difficult to tell at how much of Lee's campaign reflects the real Chris Lee, or whether his GOP handlers have him under such tight wraps that he can't stretch out and make bold moves.

Either way, Lee's conduct in this campaign should be of concern to WNY voters -- either he lacks the vision to take chances, or he lacks the leadership to throw off the shackles of party Plutocracy.

The last thing WNY needs is a congressional representative beholden to the party elite (of course, there's no guarantee we wouldn't get just such a rep in Alice Kryzan, either).

Lee is playing not-to-lose, rather than to win.  Sports teams that play cautious often find themselves on the wrong end of the score. I'm not rooting against Lee, just pointing out what I see as the glaring weakness of his campaign.

Consider, Lee has passed on debates with Kryzan, was slow to respond to the Wall Street meltdown, and declined a video interview with The Batavian, which doesn't hurt our feelings, but the reason given by his campaign manager speaks to the overly cautious nature of his campaign: Nick Longworthy was worried about how the opposition might use the video.

That's being too cautious and too calculating.  That's not how leaders behave.

Meanwhile, Kryzan has been out front on raising issues, such as her immediate (though wrongheaded) support of the bailout, and her push for green collar jobs in WNY (and more on her business plan here).

Lee's campaign has avoided specifics, spoken in platitudes (check this letter to the Democrat & Chronicle), and generally failed to articulate a clear message that sets him apart from a run-of-the-mill Republican.

When you compare Lee's campaign web site to Kryzan's site, you find that Kryzan's site is more dynamic, more frequently updated and a deeper source of information about the candidate and her take on the issues. Lee's site, reflecting the cautious nature of his campaign, is more of a paint-by-numbers brochure site with few specifics.  Look, for example, at his page on jobs. It has a scant three paragraphs of text.

The more information a candidate puts out, the more fodder for opponents to pick over. It's actually risky to open your mouth or write a policy statement.  The safe approach is to say as little as possible and avoid diving deep into significant issues.

On his own site, where Lee has his best chance at presenting an unfiltered message to voters, his brevity is revealing. Kryzan, on the other hand, floods site visitors with information.

Which is the more transparent way to campaign?

When it comes to Lee's commercials, they reflect the same play-it-safe approach. His "positive" commercials, the ones about himself, are filled with the same platitudes we get from him elsewhere, and his attack ads on Kryzan are filled with trite and hackneyed phrases like "liberal trial lawyer" -- the ads seem pulled from the same GOP playbook they've been using for two decades. At this point, Lee should be concerned that these predictable attacks have lost all meaning with voters.  They've heard it all before. These phrases ring hollow.

Regular readers have probably figured out that my politics lean more conservative than liberal, so you would think my inclination would be to support Lee.  Well, I'm not really taking sides here. I am concerned Kryzan is too liberal for my tastes, but really mistrust any candidate from either major party.

And, I've met Lee. I like him.  I don't buy into the attack ads from the DCCC and think he is at least minimally qualified for the job.  If he could maintain an independent mind, he might make a good freshman congressman. He strikes me as somebody with a solid human core who in the long run, if he avoids the pitfalls of power, could make WNY proud.

But, this lack of courage in his campaign is also a concern.  Is this a reflection of the true Chris Lee? Will we find ourselves saddled with a representative -- a representative likely to hold the seat through many terms -- who is kowtowed by his party leadership rather than stepping out on his own?

I just don't know.

Again, I'm not predicting a Lee loss. I'm not rooting against him. I'm not endorsing Kryzan. I'm not offering any suggestion on how you should vote.  I'm just raising a concern that has been on my mind for a few days. Make of it what you will.

Howard B. Owens

Jay, it would have been good if we had had that post, too. I wrote to the original submitter asking him to make a blog post rather than just e-mail it to us, but no response. It was the sort of thing that I thought a direct witness should post.

And Daniel is on the mark with my larger point -- Chris has a longer track record of MIA.

Oct 21, 2008, 8:51pm Permalink
Ghost Ellis


I think you are looking at this all the wrong way. Anyone can banter about where these candidates should have been each night or day, but I think you will find there is only one candidate actually out with the people.

Kryzan has been in the race for well over a year and I have yet to see her ONCE at any event outside of Erie County. Even Jack Davis out campaigned her. By contrast, I have seen Lee at several events throughout the GLOW region.

We can agree or disagree on the candidates overall message, but the lynchpin for me is accessibility. Even Kryzan in her WNED debate said that she has no time for getting around the district. She is "too busy raising money."

Being a representative of the people shouldn't be limited to who writes you checks. If it is, Kryzan is bought and paid for by the DCCC.

Oct 22, 2008, 12:32am Permalink
Howard B. Owens

On The Batavian, we require real identities when posting blogs or comments. This is particularly important on political issues. We're very sensitive to the concern of <a href="">sock puppets</a>.

We think it's important that when a person expresses a view or presents information as factual that the community be able to identify that person, as much as realistically possible (we can't possibly guarantee 100 percent non-deception).

All of this is a long way of saying: I've given Ghost of Ellis an opportunity to update his or her profile with his or her real identity and home town. If he or she doesn't comply within a reasonable amount of time (some time today), I'm going to be forced to take down his or her comment.

That's a disappointing thing because it's an articulate, reasonable and considered post in opposition to what I wrote.

I hope Ghost of Ellis complies.

Oct 22, 2008, 6:27am Permalink
Lorie Longhany

@ Ghost, I can name a number of places that I have seen Alice Kryzan going back to February when she attended the Genesee County Democratic Committee's annual dinner dance. Other sightings include: the Stafford Fireman's parade, Wyoming County Flag Day picnic, three visits to the Democratic office here in Batavia (once before the primary) and she also visited the Elba Onion Festival. In fact, just two weeks ago, Alice and her husband came out and knocked on doors here in Batavia. I know from my friends in Livingston, Wyoming and Orleans that she's been visible at events in their counties, too. Maybe you're not going to the same events, but I can assure you Alice has been out here -- and I would venture to guess probably more times than Jack Davis has in three runs. I wouldn't know how to compare it with Chris Lee's visibility. I've seen him one time in person -- at a parade in Greece. In all fairness to Mr Lee -- we don't exactly run in the same circles so I don't expect to bump into him.

@Howard, I like your rule on posting -- it keeps this place honest.

Oct 22, 2008, 10:19am Permalink
scott rytlewski

well here in orleans Alice was out twice since the primarys once two days after the and two weeks later to a dinner and has a house party planed for the 26 th so that takes care of the G O in glow

Oct 22, 2008, 12:51pm Permalink
Howard B. Owens

Ghost of Ellis responded to my request to update his profile with his real name.

He politely declined.

Because his comment breaks no other rule, and because it expresses a POV taking issue with what I wrote (I'd rather avoid being accused of "censoring"), then I'm going to leave it up.

He assures me he's not associated with either campaign, and I'll take him at his word.

But I've regretfully blocked him from further commenting until he updates his profile.

Oct 23, 2008, 5:57am Permalink
Jerome Grasso

Chris Lee was at every parade and carnival in Genesee County. He has been out door to door here (Batavia) and at the various Republican functions. Kryzan was absent for the Amherst League of Women Voters debate and the Buffalo Chan. 7 "Question the Candidate" sessions. He has focused on GLOW, that is where his strength is.

Oct 23, 2008, 8:35am Permalink
Timothy Paine

I'm just still curious as to why Chris Lee's campaign would be interested in me? I hold no office or any position of influence. Why would his campaign try and make trouble for me? Why would someone claiming to be working for him take my picture and give that information to a local Councilman who tried to use it as leverage? Beats the hell out of me! Do you know J?

Oct 23, 2008, 9:44am Permalink
Bea McManis

Tim wrote, "I'm just still curious as to why Chris Lee's campaign would be interested in me?"

Maybe it is your sparkling personality and sharp wit! Ya think?

Oct 23, 2008, 10:01am Permalink
Howard B. Owens

To just get back to my main thesis -- this or that appearance isn't really the issue. You can make all of the appearances in the world and still not be disclosing much about yourself to voters.

My concern with Chris Lee is we're only getting broad, rather obvious strokes, of his positions on work-a-day issues. We're not getting a lot of specificity.

I'm seeing a pattern here. His appearances in the district are great and a positive sign, but why doesn't he take the risk of really diving deep on issues, being more available to the press, doing more debates? Why is there this appearance that he's running a stock GOP campaign at the behest of GOP handlers?

Maybe I'm way off base here, but this is what I'm seeing.

Oct 23, 2008, 11:22am Permalink

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