- The Washington Times - Monday, December 5, 2005

New York Republicans’ woes — struggles to secure an identity, battles over future party leadership and changing state demographics — have jeopardized their chances to unseat Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2006, win the governorship and keep their state Senate majority.

The Senate campaign of Westchester District Attorney Jeanine F. Pirro, a Republican, was thrown into disarray last week when top Republicans in the state asked her to step down, but the rift in the party is much deeper than Mrs. Pirro’s campaign.

“We’ve had better days. It is a tough time to be a Republican in New York,” said Rep. John E. Sweeney, New York Republican, who along with state Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, recommended to Mrs. Pirro, both in person and in print, that she drop her run against Mrs. Clinton in favor of a bid for state attorney general.

Mr. Sweeney said the party’s problems stem from a lack of real identity and defining its core values.

The party is in danger of losing its majority in the state Senate, which it has held since 1965, said political analyst Gerald Benjamin, dean of State University of New York at New Paltz.

“There is no viable Republican Party base anymore,” he said.

Mr. Benjamin said demographic and economic changes in the state’s suburban regions have led to a phenomenon he called “the Massachusettization of New York” threatening the party’s future. And his phrasing has nothing to do with hints by former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, a Republican, that he will run to succeed Republican New York Gov. George E. Pataki.

He said the base was once suburban and rural, but is limited to the northern rural hills, which has led to increasing Democratic victories in former Republican strongholds, much like Massachusetts — “where you have virtually no Republican districts that could be described as a base.”

Besides the waning voter base, the party is also split along strategy lines as well.

State party chairman Stephen J. Minarik III scheduled a Dec. 12 meeting with party leaders to decide whether to throw their support behind Mr. Weld. Mr. Minarik did not return numerous calls from The Washington Times seeking comment.

But Mr. Bruno, a Republican, recently said he wanted to postpone the meeting in the hope of finding a stronger candidate — possibly upstate billionaire Tom Golisano — who could drum up support for down-ticket state Senate incumbents.

Mr. Sweeney agreed waiting would be the best move, but is unsure who the gubernatorial candidate should be.

“My point to the committee is that in December 1993, when Pataki was virtually unknown, we didn’t dare think about having the party make a commitment then, and frankly, I think George Pataki benefited from that,” he said, adding that no decision should come until the state party convention or slightly earlier.

“If they try to jam this through, they will find the opposite of what they are hoping to attain. It needs a little time to see who the candidates are, how viable they can be in terms of fundraising and what support they can muster,” he said.

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