Two of the three GOP candidates for governor -- Rick Lazio and Carl P. Paladino -- addressed the Erie County members of the State Republican Committee on Tuesday evening in an effort to win over the uncommitted delegation.
But, at least for the time being, that's the way the local group will stay: uncommitted.
Erie County Republican Chairman James P. Domagalski said the appearance by Lazio and Paladino was "just an opportunity for both to go before our committee and tell them why they think they should be governor."
But in a move that underscores Erie County's opposition to the new candidacy of Democrat-turned-Republican Steve Levy, Domagalski emphasized that the Suffolk County executive need not apply.
"Steve Levy was not invited," Domagalski said. "When I met with him, we made it clear we were not going in that direction."
While Lazio continues to make inroads with various GOP organizations in a bid to win the nomination at the Republican State Convention in May, Paladino and Levy are mounting vigorous counterattacks. Part of their strategy is to lock up Erie County, even though Domagalski has taken great pains to keep out of any candidate's column.
Lazio campaign manager Kevin Fullington said that the former Long Island congressman would impress upon Erie County Republicans that he is the candidate with momentum.
"He's hit 17 counties alone last week," Fullington said. "In each, he talks about his message of less spending, less taxes and growing jobs."
Fullington also noted Lazio's recent endorsement by the Conservative Party and new backing from Chautauqua County Republicans, while claiming that Lazio has more than 50 percent of the state committee to ensure his party endorsement. While Paladino can run in the GOP primary as a registered Republican if he collects the required signatures on designating petitions, Fullington said, Levy is still technically a Democrat and cannot.
"It means Steve Levy has no oxygen," he said.
Lazio's new efforts are welcome among some Republicans who said that many party leaders had not heard from him since Erie County Executive Chris Collins ended his exploratory run in January. Wyoming County Republican Chairman Gordon M. Brown, who has not yet supported anyone, said Lazio has renewed his pace.
"Certain chairs were annoyed that they couldn't get in touch with him or were not getting their calls returned," Brown said. "Since [Levy joined the race], he keeps calling."
Despite the backing of state Republican Chairman Edward F. Cox for Levy, Domagalski is not joining that effort. He has remained consistent in his opposition to naming a Democrat.
Paladino jumped on that argument Tuesday, criticizing Levy's campaign contributions to Speaker Sheldon Silver's Assembly Democrats that he said "fueled Silver's destructive rule in Albany." He cited $600 in Levy contributions to the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee that supports Democratic candidates for the Assembly.
"Time and again, Democrat Steve Levy contributed to the extension of Sheldon Silver's rule in Albany -- and Silver drove our state into the ground," Paladino said. "His longtime support for Speaker Silver is a fundamental problem for our party and a deal-breaker for most rank-and-file Republicans watching the governor's race."