When local Republicans invited three gubernatorial hopefuls to debate at Daemen College back on Feb. 10, they felt they had scored a minor coup.
The candidates then seeking to challenge incumbent Andrew Cuomo had not yet appeared together or really become serious about their intentions. But Erie County GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy for the first time convened former Erie County Executive Joel Giambra, State Sen. John DeFrancisco and former Housing Commissioner Joe Holland.
“What better way than to have a structured debate with three candidates?” Langworthy asked beforehand.
After that Saturday affair, however, the chairman seemed underwhelmed. He never said a thing, but it was clear he desired someone apart from the trio gathered in Amherst.
Langworthy’s demeanor significantly changed on Wednesday as he hosted Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro at GOP Headquarters and introduced him as “the next governor of New York.”
“It was clear to me and other leaders of the party that we needed to keep looking,” he told the crowd about his post-debate observations.
“He will be the Republican nominee. I believe he will be the Conservative nominee,” he added.
A few days before he told the Politics Column he likes the candidacy Molinaro is launching.
“He’s a very energetic, optimistic, Republican leader,” Langworthy said. “It’s a kind of contagious optimism that’s different from your stereotypical politician. It’s easy to talk about the gloom and doom of New York State, but he’s a solution driven guy.”
Neither Langworthy nor Molinaro should yet measure for drapes in the governor’s office on the Capitol’s second floor. Cuomo boasts more than $30 million in his campaign treasury. He will highlight a host of accomplishments via the TV ads his fat treasury will finance.
Indeed, one of these days Cuomo may actually get back out among New Yorkers the way he did for his first six years; the way that became his trademark. He might even answer questions from reporters.
But Langworthy and Molinaro are wearing smiles these days for the same reason Cuomo keeps lying low: scandals hitting close to home. Molinaro in the early stages of his candidacy frequently trumpets Joe Percoco, the former Cuomo aide convicted on federal corruption charges, and his personal connections to the governor.
“Corruption had reached the highest level of government and this governor is unwilling to confront it openly,” Molinaro said Wednesday.
The new candidate is already hitting on all the topics you would expect for a Republican gubernatorial candidate. He calls for term limits, lower taxes, less regulation, provisions for initiative and referendum, and points to population loss in 42 upstate counties despite the state’s rosy TV commercials.
None of that has worked for a while. Just ask past Republican candidates like John Faso, Carl Paladino and Rob Astorino.
But now Molinaro boasts new weaponry in Percoco, not to mention the Buffalo Billion bid-rigging trial expected to splash across front pages and TV screens this summer. Bad timing for a governor kicking off a third-term campaign.
In addition, New York Republicans are suddenly big fans of actress Cynthia Nixon. The former “Sex and the City” star is launching her own Democratic primary challenge to Cuomo. On Wednesday she traveled to Hoosick Falls in Rensselaer County to lambaste the state’s response to the village’s contaminated water supply.
She is already qualifying as a certified, card-carrying, pain in the neck to the governor of New York. And if she somehow snares the Working Families Party line usually reserved for a Democrat like Cuomo, she could emerge as a major factor in November by siphoning off reliable Democratic votes from the far left crowd.
Neither Langworthy nor any other Republican can be described as “beaming” these days. But it’s fair to say there’s a hint of a smile.