She obtained local government posts in her native Erie County, which encompasses the Rust Belt city and adjoining communities, by running not only on the Democratic line but that of the state’s Conservative Party. Appointed Erie County Clerk in 2007 by then-Gov Eliot Spitzer—a Democratic favorite at the time—she shot to statewide prominence by going after the Buffalo area’s undocumented immigrant population: when Spitzer that same year proposed granting drivers licenses to migrants without a social security number, she not only fought to block the policy but threatened to have any such applicant who turned up at her office arrested.
It was largely this record and reputation that she ran on when GOP Rep. Chris Lee resigned his seat in the House in 2011 over a lewd photo scandal, although she did support the Affordable Care Act. Her victory in a four-way race, in a strongly Republican district and at the height of the Tea Party wave, seemed like a coup for the Democrats and then-President Barack Obama.
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