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Bob McCarthy: Election season heats up a chilly March

It’s Update Day for several November elections taking shape in late March:

• If you’re a Republican and live in the 26th Congressional District, party workers with designating petitions may seek your signature for the GOP candidate to oppose Democratic incumbent Brian Higgins.

That, of course, would be Renee Zeno. Or is it?

To be sure, Zeno’s name appears on petitions now circulating throughout Higgins’ overwhelmingly Democratic district. According to Erie County GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy, she is a longtime party activist and Buffalo resident who is a member of the party’s county committee.

But Langworthy is not saying much more, including whether Zeno will appear on the ballot in November against Higgins or serves only as “placeholder” until the party finds a “real candidate.”

“We’re not making any announcements yet,” he said a few days ago.

Notice, however, that the chairman fails to offer his usual enthusiasm and promises of a “strong challenge” to Higgins. That fuels speculation that Zeno is now only part of the early process, and that party leaders will eventually name a candidate still out there in the “wooing” stage.

“We will have a candidate,” is all Langworthy will say. “The line will not be blank.”

• SUNY graduate student Marc Cohen gathered several supporters on the steps of Amherst Town Hall last week to announce his Assembly candidacy against Republican incumbent Ray Walter. He is 23 years old but has already compiled an impressive resume as president of the SUNY Student Assembly and member of the SUNY Board of Trustees.

But Cohen is not the only potential candidate. Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner points out that Karen McMahon, who served as confidential law clerk to the late U.S. District Judge John T. Curtin, has already received support from Niagara County Dems and is making other inroads as well.

“She’s kind of in the Monica Wallace mode,” Zellner said, referring to the Lancaster resident and UB law professor who charged into the Assembly two years ago.

The contest in the Walter district could prove interesting. The Republican beat Democrat Steve Meyer by only 1,268 votes in 2016, and 2018 is looming as a good one for Dems.

“I would say Ray is probably in for another big race this year,” Zellner said.

By the way, several Dems and even some Repubs had been urging Susan Grelick to run. The former Amherst supervisor said that after serious consideration, she decided to pass.

• Meanwhile, Republican Chris Jacobs might feel nervous about his re-election to the State Senate in a district that remains strongly Democratic. But Jacobs has name recognition, money, and a knack for winning in Democratic turf.

So far, no opponent has emerged from Democratic Headquarters, but Republican-turned-Democrat Kevin Stocker is making the rounds among members of his new party. So far, he’s gaining no love from Headquarters.

“He’s not getting any warm response that I know of,” Zellner said.

• Some New York Republicans are suddenly big time “Sex and the City” fans as series star Cynthia Nixon warms up to take on Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a Democratic primary. She is also expected to vie for the Working Families line, which could siphon off lots of left leaning Democratic votes ‑ much to the GOP’s delight.

As a result, Republican leaders like Langworthy remain heartened by the candidacy of Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, who is expected to officially kick off his candidacy on April 2. It’s a good bet Molinaro will barnstorm through Buffalo soon after and then return for a party event on April 12.

• Speaking of candidates for governor, former County Executive Joel Giambra has told Reform Party officials he will register as a member of their minor party in his quest to make the November ballot. That makes it tough for Giambra to fit in headlines as an official Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Reform.

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