Former Erie County Legislator Chuck Swanick.
BUFFALO, N.Y. - Republican State Senator Mark Grisanti has a new, big-name challenger who most observers never saw coming.
That challenger is former Erie County Legislator Chuck Swanick, who has been out of politics for several years.
When it came to winning elections, Swanick was a political powerhouse in the North Towns, serving Kenmore, Tonawanda, and Grand Island in the county legislature for more than two decades.
He walked away amid some controversy more than six years ago. But now, Swanick is back, and his candidacy is sending shock waves through the world of state and local politics.
"Just when you think you're a master of it, something comes out of left field and changes the whole playing field," Republican Strategist and former Deputy Erie County Executive Carl Calabrese said.
When asked about Swanick's candidacy, one state lawmaker told us, "Wow!"
Swanick, now a registered Democrat, plans to challenge Grisanti, a Republican.
Additionally, Swanick just received the coveted Conservative Party endorsement over Grisanti, largely because of Grisanti's support for same-sex marriage.
Swanick, by no means, is a shoe-in to be the Democratic party's nominee. He'll likely have to run in a tough primary.
If Swanick wins, Republicans could lose control of the State Senate.
The question, however, is can he win?
Swanick was front and center in the county's 2005 budget crisis, coming under fire, in particular, for a sequence our cameras captured in December of 2004.
During a county legislature meeting, Swanick huddled with then-Legislature Chairman Butch Holt. Swanick then made a motion to insert what critics called a three-million-dollar, "no-bid" contract into the county budget right before the midnight deadline.
When a fellow legislator asked Swanick what is was, Swanick responded, "It's... it's nothing."
In the months after the December vote, Swanick was under the heat of the media spotlight and did not seem too fond of reporters.
In the spring of 2005, Swanick walked away from then-Channel 2 Reporter Lynne Dixon as she followed him to his office. Swanick went inside and closed the door on her.
By the fall of 2005, Swanick had decided not to seek re-election.
Of course, that was how his political career ended. For 20-plus years before the budget crisis, Swanick was a powerful and popular political force. At least privately, Republicans are worried about his candidacy.
REPORTER: Can he still get elected despite all of that controversy when he was leaving?
CALABRESE: That's a great question and people remember -- how people remember and answer that question will determine whether or not he can be successful. . . Will they remember the first 24 years or the last year? It could very well turn out to be the premier race in New York State.
We left several message with Swanick Friday, but did not hear back. We also made several attempts to talk to Senator Grisanti, but he didn't want to speak. We even showed up an event his office promoted, but we didn't see him there.