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You can believe this: George Santos had Western New York political heavyweights in his corner

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Rep.-elect George Santos, R-N.Y., top center, sits in the House chamber on the opening day of the 118th Congress at the U.S. Capitol, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023, in Washington.

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WASHINGTON – Rep. George Santos hasn't bragged about them, at least not yet, but the embattled Republican resume embellisher from Long Island has plenty of Western New York connections.

Santos' 2022 campaign consultant was Chris Grant, a onetime aide to former Rep. Chris Collins and a political pro who established a Republican consulting firm in Clarence several years before moving to Florida last year. Rep. Nicholas A. Langworthy, the longtime state Republican chairman, campaigned for Santos in 2020 and donated to his campaign last year. Rep. Claudia Tenney's political action committee gave money to Santos, too, as did prominent Allegany County Republican donor Charles Joyce.

None of them seem all that excited about Santos now, though. Contacted about New York Times reports that Santos had fictionalized his education and work history – while also falsely claiming to be the descendant of Jewish Holocaust survivors – neither Grant, Langworthy nor Tenney offered the apparent fabulist any words of support. Through a staffer at his office in Wellsville, Joyce declined comment.

Santos' campaign paid Grant's firm, Big Dog Strategies, at least $147,118 for its work to elect Santos to the open congressional seat in New York's 3rd congressional district last year, according to Federal Election Commission records. Some $93,118 of that went to pay for direct mail design and postage.

Those figures probably understate the amount of money that Big Dog Strategies got from the Santos campaign, given that late campaign expenses will be included in a federal campaign finance report that's not due until Jan. 31.

Asked for his reaction to the revelations about Santos, Grant replied with a written statement that focused on Santos' victory over Democrat Robert Zimmerman – in a district that backed Democrat Joe Biden for president in 2020 – instead of Santos' trumped-up biography.

"Big Dog Strategies was hired to win one of the toughest seats for Republicans in the country and did just that – flipping a seat that Biden won by 8 points into a seat Republicans won by 8 points," Grant said. "In our republic, voters have the only say that matters on who represents them and protects their interests."

Langworthy, long a friend and ally of Grant's, addressed Santos' self-invented woes more directly. Asked for his reaction to the initial reports of Santos' lies, Langworthy said: "Shocked. Flabbergasted."

In an interview Thursday – a day after calling on Santos to resign – Langworthy noted that as state GOP chairman, he made a routine campaign appearance for Santos during his first run for Congress in 2020. But he said he was never involved in the process that chose Santos as the Republican congressional candidate for the Long Island congressional seat both in 2020 and 2022.

"The endorsements are done at a very local level," Langworthy said. "I don't think he had to battle too hard (to get the Republican nomination) and the vetting probably wasn't too intense in 2020."

Local Republican officials on Long Island noted that Santos did surprisingly well in the 2020 race against an incumbent Democrat, Rep. Tom Suozzi, and so they went on to back him for another race in 2022, Langworthy said.

"George never stopped being a candidate," Langworthy said. "I mean, he was spending time at Mar-a-Lago, raising money in different circles. I would see things on Facebook of him traveling all over the place."

As for Santos' background, "no one would have had any reason to doubt him," Langworthy said.

Noting that Santos falsely claimed to have graduated from Baruch College, Langworthy added: "What I've said to people time and again is it's a pretty sad state of affairs if you think that a party leader should have to double-check that someone graduated from a non-prestigious institution."

Langworthy's campaign donated $1,000 to Santos' effort Sept. 30, federal records show. But on Thursday, Langworthy reiterated his call for Santos to resign.

"I think he's lost the ability to be effective in his district," said Langworthy, who now represents the newly redrawn 23rd congressional district, which includes outlying parts of Erie County and much of the Southern Tier. "He's lost the faith of any governing partners that he had on the local level."

Santos has refused to resign, but Rep. Brian Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat, also said he should quit

"He should resign, given the enormous evidence of just a life of lies," Higgins said.

But Tenney, a Canandaigua-based Republican who represents the sprawling 24th district – which stretches from Niagara County to Watertown – stopped short of calling for Santos to resign.

"I am extremely disappointed with Representative Santos," Tenney said on Thursday. "He's admitted that he has not been forthcoming with the voters: outright lies, exaggeration of his resume."

However, Tenney said Santos should not be forced to resign unless and until it's proven that his conduct broke the law. "Right now it's up to the voters of the Third District" to decide Santos' fate.

Tenney's political action committee – "Tenacious PAC" – gave the Santos campaign $2,000 last June. 

But then again, many prominent New York Republicans backed him. The PAC sponsored by then-Rep. Lee Zeldin, the GOP's 2022 nominee for governor, gave Santos $8,000 between 2020 and 2022, federal records. Rep. Elise Stefanik, who represents the North Country, gave him $4,000 last year. And Joyce, the prominent GOP donor from Wellsville, gave Santos $6,700 over three years.

And Santos' Western New York connections go beyond money.

By luck of the draw, his Washington office ended up being in Suite 1117 of the Longworth House Office Building – whose previous occupants include Collins, who resigned in October 2019 upon pleading guilty to federal insider trading charges that he had previously denied.

Newsday, the New York Post and other news outlets reported last week that Vish Burra, an aide to Carl P. Paladino's GOP primary campaign against Langworthy last year, was now serving as an aide to Santos.

And some joker or hacker took to the Legistorm website this week to list Santos' "staffers" – which supposedly included Paladino.

Contacted by Jeff Coltin of City & State NY, Paladino said he is not working for Santos.

"Somebody's (expletive) around," said Paladino, who, in his conversation with Coltin, used a different seven-letter expletive to describe Santos.

CNN's Eva McKend spoke to people who voted for Republican New York Rep.-elect George Santos after it was revealed he fabricated parts of his resume.

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