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New GOP leader makes the rounds

Ed Cox, the new state Republican leader, drew a hefty share of class warfare criticism during the just concluded campaign for chairman.

"Patrician," "high browed" and "genteel" were some of the 75-cent words thrown his way. When you come from Manhattan and you're married to Richard Nixon's daughter, you get used to that.

But Cox does bring a certain "gravitas" to his new post, as well as a keen sense of history. He talks of Republicans past like Nelson Rockefeller and Theodore Roosevelt because he celebrates the role they played as New Yorkers on the national stage.

Significantly, he has read former state Republican Chairman Dick Rosenbaum's most enjoyable autobiography, "No Room for Democracy," which outlines "Rosie's" experiences as Rockefeller's state chairman. Cox knows that to function in the present you must first understand the past.

And of course, Cox was a part of the Nixon household -- where people with names like Haldeman and Ehrlichman and Kissinger made history. You pick up a thing or two living like that.

So there is a feeling of optimism surrounding the new chairman as he travels the state this week, attempting to pick up the pieces of a party in shambles. For the first time in "forever," the Republican Party holds no statewide office, and the Democrats control both houses of the Legislature.

None of that gloom and doom seems to faze Cox. He has been around long enough to watch the political pendulum swing back and forth many times. So an appreciation of history fuels his optimism.

A flip side to Barry Goldwater's humiliation in 1964, he recalled, was what followed.

"Goldwater got clobbered too," he said during a chat in the Erie County GOP's spiffy new headquarters at Main and Tupper. "But two years later we won 47 seats in the House and two years after that we had a Republican president in the White House."

Cox is also a student of New York politics. He ran John McCain's doomed-from-the-start campaign in New York last year, but learned a few things and made lots of friends along the way. He sees overwhelmingly Democratic counties like Erie, recognizes that a businessman like Chris Collins can win here, and asks why the same can't happen statewide.

"The candidate was good," he said in a series of gushing statements about Collins. "Republicans here under [Erie County Chairman] Jim Domagalski's leadership produced someone the people wanted. And the average voter wants someone who will focus on taking care of his problems as opposed to the same old, same old pol."

Cox also heaps praise on Rick Lazio, in town the same day on Wednesday to kick off his campaign for governor. Ditto for Rudy Giuliani, whom he opposed as McCain's New York campaign manager and who supported Niagara County Republican Chairman Henry Wojtaszek for state chairman.

But Lancaster native Michael Hook is Cox's political adviser. Hook is also Collins' political adviser. Collins supported Cox over the chairman next door. Cox says lots of nice things about Collins. Hmmmmm.

Still, the new state leader seems to be making friends everywhere after a long period in which his predecessor stayed home.

"He's doing the things he needs to do to get started, and people are peeking out their windows to see who he is," said former Rep. Tom Reynolds, a one-time Erie County GOP chairman who still wields clout in the party. "He's got a buzz going among Republicans in New York State."

For a party able to make nary a peep in the state political scene, even a buzz at this point is progress for Cox and the Republicans.

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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