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Bob McCarthy: Republicans perk up a bit

It was only a few weeks ago that the Politics Column chronicled New York’s glum Republicans and their moaning, groaning, wailing and gnashing of teeth. Things were not going well in their search for a challenger to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s bid for a third term in November.

At that point, State Sen. John DeFrancisco of Syracuse had emerged as front runner. Oh, they like “DeFran” enough, and pay him the respect due an Albany institution. But “Albany” posed difficulties. DeFrancisco and a quarter century in the Senate were viewed as part of the problem.

New York Republicans, however, are suddenly showing a hint of optimism. Even if Democrats still outnumber them 3 to 1. Despite failing to elect a statewide official since George Pataki as governor in 2002. And never mind that Cuomo still holds all the advantages.

Marcus Molinaro has charged into the picture from Poughkeepsie, and now the party appears a tad rejuvenated over the Dutchess County executive’s re-emergence onto the statewide scene.

“There’s been a drastic mood change,” Erie County Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy said a few days ago. “It’s almost like someone turned on the lights in the room.”

Molinaro, 42, is no stranger to politics. He was elected a trustee in the Dutchess County Village of Tivoli at 18, and a year later became its mayor ‑ the nation’s youngest. In July of 2016, he significantly mingled among New Yorkers at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland – a sure sign of statewide ambitions.

But at the start of this election year, Molinaro said he would not run for governor as he viewed an incumbent sitting on 30 million campaign dollars and sweet polling numbers. Soon after on Feb. 10, Republicans left a gubernatorial debate at Daeman College hardly brimming with enthusiasm.

At the affair sponsored by the Erie County GOP, DeFrancisco displayed a wealth of knowledge about Albany. But “Albany” remained a problem. Former Housing Commissioner Joe Holland failed to click. And for all his reform ideas, former Erie County Executive Joel Giambra never convinced a single Republican State Committee member or county chairman. They were uninterested in his kind of reform.

So attention refocused on the Hudson Valley and Molinaro. Chairmen like Langworthy asked him to reconsider, pointing to the malaise hanging over the party. More than one prominent Republican called the whole thing a “mess.”

Now Molinaro is back and the GOP feels good – as good as the beleaguered party can feel in Democratic New York.

“Marc brings energy, youth and excitement to the race,” Langworthy says. “This has been turned upside down.”

Significantly, the Conservative Party also displays a sunnier mood.

“I think he brings energy to the process,” Erie County Chairman Ralph Lorigo said, adding he hopes the candidate can cut into enough of New York City’s Democratic base to become competitive.

DeFrancisco remains very much in the picture. He maintains strong support among his Senate colleagues and in several upstate committees. He continues to crank out compelling arguments in daily press releases.

But along with Erie County late last week, other big counties – Suffolk, Dutchess, Monroe and Rockland – also declared for Molinaro. And significantly, Chemung County hopped aboard the Molinaro bandwagon after previously supporting DeFrancisco.

Cuomo remains a powerful political force. But Republicans view him as hobbling out of the Manhattan corruption trial of his friend and ally ‑ Joe Percoco.

They see his once lofty poll numbers diminishing, even if he remains strong. Political leaders like Lorigo say the governor garners no “warm and fuzzy” feelings throughout much of upstate, and wonders if he will carry Erie County.

It’s a tall order. But now they are thinking: “Maybe, just maybe.”

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