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Party Leader’s Stab For Elective Office Troubles Some Republicans

ALBANY — The state Republican Party, already facing internal division with four GOP candidates jockeying for its gubernatorial nomination, is facing new tensions over state Chairman Nick Langworthy lining up support for his fledgling congressional candidacy.

Several GOP activists and county leaders told CNHI that fissures are splitting the party over questions about Langworthy’s ability to pilot the organization while he seeks support for an emerging primary against Western New York businessman Carl Paladino for the newly drawn 23rd congressional district. Paladino waged an unsuccessful run for governor in 2010.

“It’s disrespectful to the position of state chairman to say, well, I can do that with my left hand while I run for Congress on my right hand,” said Susan McNeil, chairwoman of the Fulton County Republican Committee. “I’d like to find out exactly what he plans to do but my feeling right now is you can’t serve two masters.”

A regional vice chair of the state GOP, McNeil said party leaders across New York need Langworthy to clarify his plans. “Right now, being in limbo like this does not do anyone any good,” she said.

But some GOP activists say they are troubled by Paladino’s candidacy, citing his past racially insensitive statements, statements already being used in Democratic attacks.

Both the Republican and Democratic primaries for governor will be held June 28. The GOP candidates include Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-Long Island, businessman Harry Wilson, former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and Andrew Giuliani, who served in the administration of former President Donald Trump.

On Tuesday, the state Conservative Party signaled its support for Langworthy. But the highest-ranking member of the state’s Republican congressional delegation, Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, is an enthusiastic supporter of Paladino.

The Erie County Republican Party’s committee on substitutions has given its support to Langworthy in the congressional run. Rep. Chris Jacobs, R-Erie County, had been the candidate for that seat but pulled out of the race after incurring the wrath of gun rights supporters over his support for restrictions to military-style semi-automatic rifles.

Langworthy was among those who had questioned Jacobs’ shift on the gun issue.

Raymond Scollin, a member of the Republican State Committee and former chairman of the Franklin County GOP, called on Langworthy to clarify whether he will remain as state chairman while running for Congress.

“I think Nick needs to get off the dime,” Scollin said. “I think he needs to state what his intentions are and pick one or the other.”

At the same time, Scollin pointed out: “I am absolutely no fan of Carl Paladino. I know Nick Langworthy. I like Nick Langworthy. I just need to know what the hell he’s doing.”

Langworthy’s decision to enthusiastically support Zeldin in New York’s gubernatorial primary is being questioned by some Republican activists who contend Zeldin lacks the charisma to be a viable statewide candidate. Some of that tension appears to be spilling over in the emerging battle for the congressional seat.

But state Conservative Party Chairman Gerard Kassar, a supporter of both Langworthy and Zeldin, said the state GOP boss got behind the right candidate in Zeldin.

“I have every reason to believe that Lee Zeldin will comfortably win the GOP primary,” Kassar said. “And let’s not forget that includes all the GOP county organizations, including extraordinarily successful ones that are strongly behind him.”

On Tuesday, the Conservative Party threw its support to Langworthy in the contest for the 23rd district. Kassar said his party was acting on the recommendation of western New York GOP leaders.

Another Langworthy supporter, Suffolk County GOP Chairman Jesse Garcia, said Langworthy has the skill set to balance his responsibilities as the state leader and congressional candidate.

“As party leaders of counties of great size, we’re required to multitask, and certainly Nick Langworthy has the capabilities to lead this party and lead Lee Zeldin to victory in November while seeking the nomination for the 23rd district congressional seat,” Garcia said.

Tom Doherty, a former high-ranking aide to the last Republican to win statewide office, former Gov. George Pataki, said he was concerned the emerging Langworthy/Paladino contest will “become a distracting sideshow” that threatens to drain the focus from the GOP efforts to win the governor’s office this fall.

“You now have a senior member of the Republican House (Stefanik) not supporting the leader of the state party,” Doherty said. “That’s not good.

Doherty said he believes Jacobs could have withstood the criticism of his evolution on gun rights and taken the seat that had been held by Rep. Tom Reed, who resigned May 10.

Paladino attended a fundraiser Trump held Monday night at Briarcliff Manor for Stefanik and former Rep. Claudia Tenney. The latter is now running to represent the redrawn 24th congressional district in northern New York.

It remains unclear as to whether Trump will take sides in the Langworthy/Paladino contest.

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