The official purpose of the GOP state convention in Buffalo on Friday is nominating attorney Wendy Long to oppose Sen. Charles E. Schumer in November.
But the name that will dominate conversations in every corner of the Marriott HarborCenter Hotel is Donald J. Trump.
As Trump’s snowballing presidential candidacy consumes state and national Republicans, it is also spawning a layer of internal intrigue expected to spread across the state convention. Though no official endorsement of their fellow New Yorker is expected Friday, Trump supporters may very well find a way to formally or informally convert more faithful.
Insiders say anything can happen.
“We see this as an opportunity for more county chairs and committeemen to get on the bus,” said Carl P. Paladino of Buffalo, the 2010 GOP candidate for governor eyeing another run in 2018.
That sentiment received a major boost Thursday when the convention’s host chairman – Nicholas A. Langworthy of Erie County – became the second major county leader to back Trump, joining Thomas V. Dadey Jr. of Onondaga County. Though he had been inching toward a Trump endorsement for weeks following his earlier support for the aborted candidacy of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Langworthy seized on Mitt Romney’s denunciation of Trump earlier in the day to summon reporters to GOP Headquarters and make his announcement.
Calling Romney a “has been,” “a failed candidate,” and “a joke,” Langworthy accused him of maneuvering to become this year’s nominee.
“I think Mitt Romney is way overestimating his ability to influence the presidential selection process,” Langworthy said. “People don’t care what a has been politician like Mitt Romney has to say about this race.”
Just hours after the former Massachusetts governor denounced Trump as a “phony” and a “fraud,” Langworthy told reporters Romney was playing into the hands of Trump supporters rebelling against establishment types and insiders angling to thwart the will of primary voters.
“They are as angry as they ever have been about the ‘establishment’ of their party,” Langworthy said of GOP voters. “This is not some cabal that is going to make a decision to throw whoever is the nominee overboard.”
He also said he believes Romney may be angling to promote his own 2016 candidacy after being scared off by Jeb Bush early in the process.
“This really gratuitous, and fairly unprecedented for the former nominee … to go on a tirade for the prospective nominee,” he said. “It’s absolutely ridiculous.”
The GOP state convention will feature speeches, which could allow those on the podium to pepper their remarks with plugs for Trump – the only presidential candidate that seems to be resonating with the party officials gathering in Buffalo.
The conclave is also expected to feature at least five potential candidates for governor in 2018 who are already making the rounds. All will be allotted five minutes for speeches aiming to introduce themselves to party officials.
They include Paladino; Rep. Chris Gibson of the Hudson Valley, a decorated Iraq War veteran; businessman Harry Wilson, the GOP candidate for comptroller in 2010; former Pataki administration official John Cahill, the 2014 candidate for attorney general; and Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro.