On a frosty morning last weekend, the “establishment” convened at the Brounschidle American Legion Post in Kenmore.
More than 300 staunch Republicans, summoned by Erie County Chairman Nick Langworthy, cast votes for president in a “meaningless” straw poll.
When it was over, Donald Trump snared 57 percent of the vote. And we’re talking official “establishment” here. Town chairmen. Committee members. Electeds. Board of Elections workers. So in a place where “real” Republicans – not those “angry Trump kind” – were voting, the anti-establishment guy scored big.
Langworthy’s Saturday morning party-building exercise would garner an “F” in any Polling 101 course. Nothing scientific about this survey.
But it remains significant, because the votes were tallied secretly on official voting machines guarded by Elections Commissioner Ralph Mohr. It revealed that a good chunk of the Erie County GOP leadership – the kind of people who are conventionally thought to be supporting Jeb Bush or John Kasich or Marco Rubio – are lining up behind the Manhattan developer who gets stronger with each outrageous bomb he drops.
It all sounds familiar to Carl Paladino, the 2010 Republican candidate for governor who placed Trump’s name in “nomination” at last weekend’s conclave. Paladino garnered the loudest ovation of all as he ascended the stage, and it will be recalled that he waged his own “outrageous” campaign in 2010.
That year he also ran against an “establishment” candidate in the Republican primary. He won Erie County 94-to-6 percent.
Now senior Republicans say they expect that Trump would score well with rank-and-file Republicans in Erie County, too. Nobody is saying it, but the bet here (could be wrong, but don’t think so) is that Langworthy will eventually line up with Trump, too. In 2014, the chairman strongly backed Trump for governor before succumbing to the allure of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in 2015.
With that dalliance ended, his Erie County group could add significant organizational muscle for a fellow New Yorker should the state’s April 19 primary loom large.
Back on the home front, the local GOP establishment is waiting for County Clerk Chris Jacobs to signal his intentions about the State Senate seat now occupied by Democrat Marc Panepinto. Some are antsy. Others say he has lots of time.
In the meantime, Langworthy seems high on James Gardner, the assistant district attorney waiting in the wings on a Jacobs decision. Kenmore attorney Kevin Stocker, who for months has been campaigning door to door and could not care less about headquarters support (the feeling is mutual), remains in the picture.
On the Democratic side, Parkside Community Association Executive Director Amber Small officially announced her candidacy a few days ago in a slick social media video. She told the Politics Column she has had no discussions with Sen. Jeff Klein’s Independent Democratic Caucus despite attending one of the group’s events. If elected, she said she will caucus with the Democrats led by Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins.
Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner is discussing the race with Small, but it might be difficult for him to break with Senate Dems and the powerful NYSUT teachers union expected to be “all in” for Panepinto. Zellner said late last week that Senate Democrats, who are hoping for a majority this year, will be working hard for Panepinto. Ditto for pro-choice groups like NARAL and Planned Parenthood.
“Party leaders seem to be leaning in that direction,” Zellner said, “but I hope we’ll reach a decision next week.”
Still on the State Senate, political survival no longer presents such a challenge to Democrat Tim Kennedy. After battling party-backed opponents like Betty Jean Grant in the past, that all changed last week after gaining the Democratic nod. “The senator has really evolved on the issues and has become a strong representative of the community,” Zellner said. “That really impressed me. He deserves this.”