Upstate New York congressional race causing drama among GOP power players

The heat is on between NY GOP chairman Nick Langworthy and Buffalo power player Carl Paladino for a newly open congressional seat.

Updated: June 18, 2022 - 12:49pm

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Two prominent New York state Republicans are headed on a collision course in the upcoming primary election, in a politically fraught battle sending ripples throughout the GOP across the Empire State.

State GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy and major party donor Carl Paladino are both vying to represent the 23rd District after the incumbent, Rep. Chris Jacobs, announced he would not run for reelection after facing considerable backlash for his call for new gun laws in the wake of the Buffalo shooting that left 10 dead.

Langworthy himself urged Jacobs to stand down, but before the party chair announced his own bid for the seat, Paladino threw his hat into the ring, in an announcement that included the backing of the third-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, Elise Stefanik.

Now a sort of proxy war has erupted between Langworthy and Stefanik, both of whom are allies of former President Trump. In an interview with the New York Post on the day he declared his candidacy, Langworthy accused Stefanik of backing his opponent as an act of vengeance stemming from his refusal to support a potential gubernatorial bid that he said she was mulling last year.

Stefanik’s camp adamantly denied the accusation, and said that if she did want to run for governor, she would "never have to lower herself to ask Nick Langworthy for permission." Stefanik, her spokesperson said, has refrained from "attack(ing) any fellow Republicans."

Some Republican leaders around the state wonder if Langworthy stepped out of line by opting to run against members of his own party, while maintaining a position at the head of the state party. In a year during which New York Republicans are poised to collect more victories than they have for at least several cycles as a result of, among other things, a redistricting cycle that put new House districts in play, some believe that Langworthy’s full attention should be on the state party and not his own race.

GOP party chairman in Rockland County Lawrence Garvey recently told the New York Times, "It has to be all hands on deck and our state chair can’t be hunkered down in the 23rd Congressional District running a primary while we are simultaneously trying to elect a governor."

Susan McNeil, the Fulton County GOP chair, who stepped aside in 2019 for Langworthy to become chairman, echoed Garvey’s sentiments, telling Just the News that Langworthy “"can’t serve two masters."

"He wants to do both," she said, calling his decision not to resign his position "not good for the party." McNeil said his move is generating "mixed feelings" and "confusion" among New York GOP officials. She says that she has "not received a phone call to be informed about anything that is happening."

One New York Republican strategist noted that the perception among some is that Langworthy "tried to rig the back-door process to become the nominee without a primary" after “forcing a Republican member out.” The potentially poisonous move comes just as Republicans were "celebrating" the Democratic infighting in New York led by Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) chair Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney’s decision to run in a district held by openly gay progressive freshman Rep. of color Mondaire Jones.

Jones has since chosen a new district in which to run, but the move caused some in the Democratic caucus to wonder whether Maloney was the right choice to lead the party during what is expected to be a tough year. Referring back to issues among the Republicans, the strategist said, "we have our own Sean Patrick Malangworthy."

For his part, Paladino may need some defending against the chairman of the NY GOP. He recently apologized following a resurfaced radio interview, in which he praised the leadership style of Adolf Hitler. He was also forced out of a Buffalo school board seat and chastised on a separate occasion for making racist jokes, including several targeting former president and first lady Barack and Michelle Obama.

Garvey told the Times that "no person in their right mind" could defend some of the things Paladino has said.

Stefanik, however, has chosen to look past the controversy and support a candidate she believes will win. As the New York strategist put it, "This is Marjorie Taylor Greene territory; these voters just want a conservative."  In fact, according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, NY’s 23rd district is an R+12, while Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s 14th district of Georgia is R+22. The point, however, is that Stefanik has made the calculation that voters are willing to overlook Paladino’s past crude remarks in favor of what she believes to be his hardcore conservative platform.

One senior GOP operative in New York says Stefanik is making the right decision. "[Langworthy] will be embarrassed badly with a huge loss in August," he said, "it's clear he is blowing the best opportunity New York Republican have had in a generation."

The Langworthy campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment.