ALBANY – It’s not the best time to take over as the leader of the state Republican Party.
New York State is becoming more blue by the month, as the GOP’s ability to enroll voters to its camp keeps slipping.
Republicans control no statewide office in New York, from state posts to federal ones.
And Republicans lost big in November in their bid to remain in control of the State Senate, a political earthquake that also ended up leading to a rush of left-leaning policy and budget matters in an all-Democratic Albany.
Enter Nicholas Langworthy, the Erie County GOP chairman who on Monday was selected in Albany to be the statewide chairman of the Republican Party.
The new GOP leader gave a spirited speech to local leaders from around the state, vowing to run serious, bankrolled campaigns, including an all-out effort to assist President Trump in his 2020 re-election bid.
“Our day is here. A new generation of leadership is reporting for duty," he told the GOP delegates who unanimously backed his chairmanship bid Monday.
When Langworthy was tentatively tapped in May to run the state GOP, he said one of his priorities will be to improve the enrollment numbers for his party.
The disparity in voting enrollment patterns has been going against the GOP for decades now.
There are 5.9 million registered Democrats statewide compared with 2.6 million Republicans. At the end of 2006 – as then-Gov. George Pataki, the last Republican to be elected statewide, was wrapping up his third term in office – there were 4.8 million Democrats and 2.8 million Republicans.
So, Democrats have gained nearly 1 million registered voters to their fold, while Republicans have lost 200,000 enrolled members. The most reliable gains for Democrats: New York City, where they now have 3.2 million people enrolled as Democrats – up from 2.6 million in 2006 – while Republicans have just 471,000 enrolled members.
“He’s got a tough job ahead of him," Jay Jacobs, the chairman of the state Democratic Party, said of Langworthy.
“But more than the numbers, it’s his association with Donald Trump. In a state like New York, that certain impacts the credibility of the Republican Party as a mainstream, viable competitor for voters in this state," he added.
Jacobs said he thinks Langworthy will focus on getting wins in smaller, local elections in areas of the state where the GOP has competitive numbers, such as upstate and some suburban areas of New York City. A run of victories in such contests, Jacobs believes, could help Langworthy expand the reach of the GOP, especially with donors.
The Democratic Party chairman said the GOP is a "near nonentity” on the statewide level, maintains influence in local races upstate and runs competitive in the downstate suburbs. “I don’t underestimate the potential of the Republican Party for a resurgence … because politics is a cyclical business. Nobody is up forever and from what I’ve seen historically, nobody is down forever," he said.
“I take the new chairman seriously and I certainly respect the potential and I will act accordingly," Jacobs added.
In stark contrast to the morgue-like atmosphere of the party’s 2018 convention to select a statewide slate of candidates – all of whom lost last November – the Monday gathering of local party leaders at a Marriott hotel outside Albany sought to portray a party on the mend. “The comeback starts now," the headline on a party brochure read.
“It’s a new day," proclaimed Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo.
In nomination speeches, GOP leaders did not shy away from embracing the head of their national party: President Donald Trump. They equally used the day to bash a common enemy: Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who already has hinted at his plans to seek a fourth term as governor in 2022.
Despite the pomp, Republicans are well aware of the obstacles facing the party in New York. “The guy’s drinking from a fire hose," Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro said of the many tasks Langworthy faces to win races, raise money, excite the base and attract new voters to the party.
“If anyone knows the challenges well, it’s Nick Langworthy. And if anyone knows how to pull together a strategy to overcome them, it’s Nick Langworthy," said Molinaro, who was the GOP candidate against Cuomo last year.
But Douglas Muzzio, a political scientist at Baruch College, said Langworthy comes into his post at an increasingly difficult moment for the GOP. “The challenges are immense," he said.
But Muzzio said the GOP is not making its task any less bumpy.
“The state is moving to the left and the state Republican Party is moving to the right. It just doesn’t make any sense. It’s almost like they don’t want to win anything in New York," Muzzio said.
At 38, Langworthy became the party’s youngest ever leader. He succeeds Ed Cox, 72, who has been involved in politics since helping advise Richard Nixon – his late father-in-law – on his political comeback and 1968 election as president.
Langworthy bashed Cuomo repeatedly in his Monday speech to Republicans, lashed out at Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the liberal Democrat from Queens, and condemned the “extreme liberal agenda” by the State Legislature this year that pushed through everything from expanded abortion rights to letting migrants in the country illegally apply for a New York State driver’s license.
But Langworthy also noted the obvious: that Republicans will need to appeal across demographic lines to lure Democrats and independents to vote for GOP candidates on the local and statewide basis. He said the party won’t win statewide unless it reaches the “hearts and minds” of such voters.
“We need to do a better job of listening. We need more dialogue," Langworthy said, adding the GOP can offer a “natural appeal” to low-income and middle-income voters in upstate and the downstate suburbs.
Langworthy said the party will start a statewide GOP voter registration drive and a new focus on small donor contributions. He asked local GOP leaders to help the party elect a GOP governor in 2020 to “truly change New York.”