BUFFALO, N.Y. - Erie County has long been a hotbed of political trickery, but this one may top them all.
More than 250 gay, lesbian, and same-sex marriage activists have officially registered as members of the Erie County Conservative Party, which strongly opposes same-sex marriage.
The reason? Organizers say they're trying to protect someone who helped them - State Senator Mark Grisanti (R-Buffalo).
Last June, Grisanti, who campaigned as an opponent of same-sex marriage, cast a vote crucial to legalizing it in New York State. The vote drew both applause and vilification. It also seriously jeopardized his chances at re-election.
By many accounts, if Grisanti seeks re-election as a Republican, failure to secure the Conservative Party nomination could doom his chances. Michael Long, the state Conservative Party chairman, said he will never support the candidacy of any Republican who voted in favor of same-sex marriage.
Grateful Grisanti supporters intended to ensure he receives the Conservative nomination.
"There's an old phrase my dad used to use," said Kitty Lambert-Rudd, a same-sex marriage activist. "If you can't beat them, join them. And once you're in, take them over and throw them out."
Lambert organized the drive to register voters as conservatives. She succeeded in convincing 250 Erie County Residents, plus more than 50 in surrounding counties, to switch their registration to vote for Grisanti.
The Conservative Party in Erie County has approximately 11,900 registered voters.
"This is one of the most concentrated efforts we've seen in a long time," Erie County Republican Elections Commissioner Ralph Mohr said.
REPORTER: Do you think that sends the right message?
LAMBERT: Politics is ugly. Yeah. It sends the right message.
Erie County Conservative Chairman Ralph Lorigo said he was not pleased with the tactic.
"It's an interesting concept, isn't it?" Lorigo said. "I'm happy to grow the number of conservatives. But I'm not happy they're joining for one reason - to disrupt the party. I'm more than happy to sit down with her to discuss the issue."
REPORTER: Would you call this payback for the Conservative Party?
LAMBERT: No. Not at all.
REPORTER: What would you call it?
LAMBERT: Wake up. Wake up. We have not bothered you. We simply have asked for equal representation under the existing law. And you've targeted senators that allowed us to be Americans and represented equally. Wake up.
Lambert said she could not muster the nerve to switch her own registration. Those who did switch before Friday's deadline are now eligible to vote in the 2012 Conservative Primary. They will not be eligible to return to their previous party to vote in a primary election until 2013.
The purpose of that delay was to discourage voters from doing exactly what Lambert-Rudd acknowledges she is trying now -- to influence the primary of another party.