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Giambra seeks open GOP primary for governor

Giambra seeks open GOP primary for governor

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Former Erie County Executive Joel A. Giambra wants the state GOP to open its gubernatorial primary to unaffiliated voters, saying that's the only way to win in heavily Democratic New York. 

Former Erie County Executive Joel A. Giambra, hoping to launch a "moderate" Republican bid for governor next year, is asking party leaders to open the GOP primary to unaffiliated voters.

The idea, Giambra says, is to prevent a hardcore conservative candidate and supporter of former President Donald J. Trump from leading the Republican Party to another thumping at the polls in 2022. He figures a contest in heavily Democratic New York against Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo or some other Democrat will fail miserably in a state which Trump lost in 2020 by 23 points.

"A GOP primary brings with it the danger that it will push GOP candidates to the far right in a deep blue state," Giambra wrote to state Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy. "New York Republicans will never win a statewide election in New York with only Trump votes; we must expand our political tent."

But Giambra's proposal faces almost certain doom, since the party appears to be coalescing behind Rep. Lee Zeldin of Suffolk County, an ardent Trump supporter who Fox News reported met with the former president in Florida last month. Indeed, Langworthy (another Trump supporter, as are most other party leaders) has responded with a resounding "no."

"We will not weaken our rules so that Cuomo acolytes can infiltrate our candidate selection process," Langworthy said late Thursday.

Rep. Lee Zeldin, who was recently announced as the GOP candidate for governor, was in the Buffalo area meeting with Republican and Conservative leaders. He speaks with the media outside the Olympic Restaurant on Genesee Street in Cheektowaga, Tuesday, April 13, 2021.

Giambra, who in a similar 2018 bid for governor attracted little support and counts few party supporters again this year, is nevertheless working hard to make his case. In a Thursday interview with The Buffalo News, the two-term county executive pointed to the lack of any statewide Republican success since 2002 and concludes the party must find another way.

"Why not let the voters decide so we have the strongest and best candidate with the best chance to win in November?" he asked. "Because our ability to win using the same playbook is very much reduced."

Offering a committed Trump supporter to voters in ultra-Democratic New York, he said, "looks like we plan on coming in second." 

"If it's about electability and winning," he said, "then changing the formula might be helpful. What's the party got to lose?"

But no other potential candidate appearing before party leaders in Albany on Monday made a similar argument. Instead, all have expressed support for Trump and his policies, while one – Andrew Giuliani – worked for the former president in the White House until the administration ended in January.

And Langworthy, never close to Giambra even in his former post as Erie County Republican chairman, is counted among Trump's top New York State supporters.

Still, Giambra points to no legal impediments to opening the Republican primary to unaffiliated voters, noting the old Independence Party allowed such a practice in recent years. He also thinks opening the primary could attract disenchanted Republicans back to the GOP.

"You just have to have the political will to change party rules," he said. "If we can't attract these unaffiliated voters, then our candidate can't win."

He said his message revolves around his county executive priorities, including "smaller, better and cheaper government."

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