After Bruising Mayoral Race, Battered GOP Turns Eyes on Governor

ALBANY -

Following the bruising battle for New York City’s mayoralty which ended last week with a historic Democratic win, the state’s dwindling Republican party is turning its sights on the three statewide races which are up for reelection next year.

So far, two big names are said to be in the running, with a third not far behind.

Carl Paladino, who lost badly to Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2010, is back in politics with a pledge to undercut the Republican Party if it doesn’t move to the right.

“New York state is looking for real leadership,” Paladino said in an interview Monday, days after the Republican Party scored some important suburban wins in last week’s elections to strengthen their hand for the 2014 elections.

“If it’s me, fine. But I will give everyone else a chance,” he said.

That “everyone else” is almost certain to include newly re-elected Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, a Republican who paid a surprise visit to the all Democratic Somos El Futuro gathering of state politicians in Puerto Rico last week. According to the New York Post’s Fred Dicker, Astorino delivered an address in fluent Spanish, impressing many who were there.

Dicker, the state editor of the Post, said that Astorino, coming off a landslide victory on a heavily Democratic county, told aides he would “seriously consider” challenging Cuomo next year.

“I am considering it right now. I have to consider it,” declared Astorino. “New York is hemorrhaging jobs, I think we just went from 49th to 50th in terms of a bad business climate. We’re going in the wrong direction.”

Meanwhile, the Daily News’ Ken Lovett reported that State Republican Chairman Ed Cox, a son-in-law of the late President Richard Nixon, may run himself if he can’t recruit a candidate he is satisfied could win.

“I’m looking for a good candidate, that’s what I’m doing — period,” Cox said when asked about the report. “I’m chairing the party and talking to several people who would be good candidates.”

Paladino, a millionaire developer who won a seat earlier this year on Buffalo’s school board, said that if no one runs as a true fiscal conservative, he will run as a Conservative Party nominee against the GOP. But if he finds a conservative Republican, he will support him. He said he won’t make social issues — a topic which doomed his run against Cuomo — part of this test.

Although he lost 2-to-1 to Cuomo, Paladino casts a large shadow in upstate politics. He has led pockets of upstate revolt over Cuomo’s gun control measure this year and has criticized the Democrat for doing too little to turn around the upstate economy.

Democrats hold a nearly 2-to-1 registration advantage, but Cuomo has struggled with his once high support upstate. In a recent Siena College poll, 52 percent of voters upstate preferred “someone else.”

“I assume Paladino would bring significant money to the table and he has some name recognition from his previous run,” said Lee Miringoff of the Marist College poll. “And he now has the experience with the media … so what is a campaign that is typically unpredictable has become even more so.”

Republicans also showed some renewed strength in the critical suburbs in last Tuesday’s off-year elections.

“The local elections showed that the state Republican Party still has a pulse and has taken the first steps — as they did 20 years ago — to rebuilding the party into one that might be competitive again,” said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University.

The Republican nominee will face Cuomo, who remains popular statewide and has a massive $30 million campaign fund. That is convincing some Republicans to look elsewhere for wins, such as defeating Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The attorney general is considered more vulnerable than the only other Democrat elected to statewide office, Controller Thomas DiNapoli.

“Controllers seem to get reelected as long as they do their jobs,” said one insider. “DiNapoli comes from Nassau County. Schneiderman is a West Sider start to finish.”

A recent poll found Schneiderman’s approval rating at just 23 percent, with most New Yorkers not knowing enough about him to form an opinion. Republicans also say that Schneiderman is not likely to get much help from Cuomo, since the two have a frosty relationship.