A group of top Western New York Republicans is now asking potential gubernatorial candidate Donald Trump some key questions.
According to sources familiar with the situation, the queries include:
• Are you serious about challenging Democratic incumbent Andrew M. Cuomo this year?
• Will you run even if Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino also launches a candidacy?
• Are you willing to give up another season of “The Celebrity Apprentice” – once the nation’s top-rated television show – to concentrate on seeking the Executive Mansion?
Trump has so far shown every indication that he is serious, though uninterested in waging a costly and potentially divisive primary campaign. But enough angst is now building among statewide Republicans that an increasingly influential cadre of Western New Yorkers traveled to Manhattan on Monday night for answers.
“I want to know what’s going on,” said one participant in the meeting with Trump who asked not to be identified.
Nobody would speak on the record about the meeting, but the sources said participants included 2010 GOP gubernatorial nominee Carl P. Paladino, Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy, Assemblyman David J. DiPietro of East Aurora and East Aurora political consultant Michael R. Caputo.
Michael Cohen, Trump’s top assistant, also has played a key part in recent deliberations that point to a possible declaration of candidacy by the New York City real estate mogul sometime in February. He did not return a call Monday.
Paladino’s attendance at the Monday meeting is also viewed as significant, since he has proclaimed Trump “an awesome candidate” but continues to dangle the possibility of his own candidacy on the Conservative line. He told the Fox Business Network on Monday evening that he continues to weigh that possibility.
“If Donald doesn’t run, it is very likely that Michael Long will give me the Conservative nod to run,” he said, referring to the state Conservative Party chairman, who so far has made no commitments.
While those involved say questions need to be asked and answered, they acknowledge that Trump is saying all the right things about a potential race.
“I don’t think he would ask people to come down to another meeting if this wasn’t something he’s seriously looking at,” said one participant, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak for Trump.
The Monday meeting followed several media reports of a separate encounter in Westchester County over the weekend between Cohen and Astorino, which one media outlet reported as signaling Astorino’s withdrawal from the race. But those reports were promptly disputed, and Astorino sources insist he remains committed to winning the GOP nomination.
It’s all prompting a game of political “chicken” in which the two main participants wait for the other to blink. But while questions still surround Trump, a close Astorino associate insisted Monday the county executive is running for governor.
“He has just not formally announced and is just making sure his ducks are in a row,” said one Astorino confidant who asked not to be identified because he is not authorized to speak for the county executive.
Meanwhile, Caputo acknowledged that even though Trump wants nothing to do with a Republican primary, the situation has not changed and that such declarations from the Astorino camp are to be expected.
“It’s going to take a lot more than a head fake from Rob Astorino for Donald Trump to lose interest in the governor’s race,” said Caputo, who is among those urging Trump to run. “And at the end of the day, there is no way that Rob Astorino is going to primary Donald Trump.”
Trump is slated to attend Langworthy’s annual Lincoln Day fundraiser on Jan. 31 in Salvatore’s Italian Gardens, Lancaster – his first upstate foray and a sign widely interpreted as serious interest in the race.
Western New York Republicans are assuming a major role in the drama surrounding Trump because of their influential role in the upcoming nomination process. Following Paladino’s significant election victory in Erie County in his 2010 run for governor, Langworthy’s delegation will represent 11.5 percent of the vote when the party convenes in May. That stands as a crucial portion of the effort to gain 50 percent of the convention vote and the party endorsement.
All of this follows the Monday release of a Siena College poll showing Cuomo would beat Trump, 70 to 22 percent, if the election were held today, while Astorino would lose, 67 to 19 percent. It leads the pollsters to conclude Cuomo is “sitting pretty” as the 2014 election season unfolds.
“His favorability rating is the strongest it’s been since February,” said Siena pollster Steven A. Greenberg. “His job performance rating is the best it’s been since March. And more voters are prepared to re-elect him than at any time since last January.”
The poll also notes that three-quarters of surveyed voters don’t even recognize Astorino, while neither he nor Trump even gains the majority of Republicans, let alone independents. In fact, Trump is viewed unfavorably by 57 percent of voters.
Cuomo is viewed favorably by 66 percent of voters and unfavorably by 28 percent (up from 61 to 32 percent in November), Siena reported. Voters give him a positive 54 to 46 percent job performance rating (up from a negative 44 to 56 percent in November), while 57 percent are prepared to re-elect him, compared with 33 percent who would prefer someone else (up from 51 to 41 percent). Astorino has a 14 to 10 percent favorability rating, with the rest not recognizing him.
Trump faces no such recognition problems but is viewed favorably by only 38 percent and unfavorably by 57 percent of those polled.