Gov. Andrew Cuomo‘s abrupt resignation brought down the curtain on a titan of New York politics and opened a door for the state Republican Party after two decades of disappointments.
The party has been shut out in statewide races since Gov. George E. Pataki captured a third term in 2002. Republicans have struggled to adjust to changing demographics and make the most of scandals, including former Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer’s penchant for prostitutes.
Republicans hope to reverse their fortunes and take advantage of Mr. Cuomo‘s stunning downfall, as well as a possible knock-down, drag-out fight between newly minted Gov. Kathy Hochul and the far-left wing of the Democratic Party in the primary election next year.
New York Republican Party Chair Nick Langworthy said the party has been building its digital operation and is ready to capitalize on the Cuomo downfall.
“You also have what I believe will be a national wave election for Republicans just like how the 1994 election brought us George Pataki,” he said. “It took a lot of luck and timing and the right candidate and message to beat Mario Cuomo.
“We need those same circumstances [next year],” Mr. Langworthy said. “We need luck, we need the right candidate and the right message, and we need national circumstances.”
That could be wishful thinking, said Richard Flanagan, a political science professor at the College of Staten Island. He said it might be near impossible for Republicans to win statewide.
“Democrats have a 3-1 voter registration advantage,” Mr. Flanagan said. “I think the party is in such bad shape they have just retreated to their counties, and by that I mean they are competing in some of the county executive races upstate, of course, and they will hold some congressional seats, but statewide aspirations are just a bridge too far.”
Democrats hold both of New York’s U.S. Senate seats and 19 of the state’s House seats. Republicans in the state have not won a U.S. Senate race since 1992.
Some Republicans are concerned that the decades of struggles have diminished the state party.
“My big concern [is] the party has collapsed so much in upstate New York,” Rep. Claudia Tenney, a Republican from an upstate district, recently told The Washington Times. “It’s just weak statewide.
“When Pataki won in his last term and when Republicans have been able to win, we had a stronger party and we had more infrastructure in place, so you could actually get grassroots and turnout,” she said.
Mr. Langworthy, however, said the wind will be at the Republican Party’s back and the election will serve as a referendum on Mr. Cuomo and the Democratic Party.
He said Democrats have hurt the economy and driven residents from the state by sprinting to the far left and thrusting “out of control” policies, “out of control” spending” and “wanton” COVID-related regulations onto New Yorkers.
“It is funny to see what a year can do,” Mr. Langworthy said of Mr. Cuomo‘s demise.
Indeed, Mr. Cuomo‘s approval rating surpassed 70% after he emerged as the golden boy for Democrats at the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak. His daily press conferences, complete with PowerPoint presentations and forceful assurances to viewers, became must-watch television.
His reputation unraveled over time. Critics said he was manipulating the death toll among nursing home residents and that his COVID-19 policies led to more nursing home deaths.
Mr. Cuomo also was accused of sexual misconduct and misusing state resources for his COVID-19 book. State Attorney General Letitia James opened investigations.
Ms. James revealed in early August that investigators found Mr. Cuomo had sexually harassed at least 11 women. Mr. Cuomo, who disputed the accusations, resigned a week later.
Mrs. Hochul, who became the state’s first female governor, added insult to injury by releasing COVID-19 statistics that showed the state’s death total was higher than the Cuomo administration had publicized.
John McLaughlin, a New York political consultant, said the Republican Party should be optimistic about gaining ground after the Cuomo scandal.
“Even though the Democrats control all of Albany in terms of the governorship, the Assembly and the state Senate, the Democrats are going to be divided, and you are going to have very divisive primaries between moderate Democrats and Democrats who are really big government socialists,” Mr. McLaughlin said.
Meanwhile, Mr. McLaughlin said, Republicans have rallied behind Rep. Lee Zeldin’s gubernatorial bid.
“We have united a Republican-conservative coalition, which is the formula for electing Republicans in New York state going back to [President] Reagan, [Sen. Alfonse Marcello] D’Amato and Pataki,” he said. “There are going to be a significant number of Democrats who leave their party to vote for Zeldin and other Republicans because it is unsafe and unaffordable to live in New York.”
Mr. Zeldin is the presumed Republican gubernatorial nominee. He is running in a June primary against former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and Andrew Giuliani, a son of former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.
“One-party rule in New York has led to rampant crime, a skyrocketing cost of living and a deteriorating quality of life that has led so many New Yorkers to flee the communities they love,” Mr. Zeldin said last week. “New Yorkers are looking at other states and wondering why we can’t have that here in New York. The answer is that we can, but not if we continue down this path of disastrous one-party rule.
“Every New Yorker deserves better, and, in November of 2022, we must rid New York of the Cuomo-Hochul administration and its disgraceful legacy,” he said.
Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic Party strategist, said Mr. Zeldin could have the right mix of experience, connections and urban understanding to win if Democrats face political headwinds.
“He can raise the money,” Mr. Sheinkopf said. “He has served in the Senate, he has served in the Congress. He has lots of friends across the state.”
Nonetheless, Mr. Sheinkopf said, the New York Republican Party could “use some vitamins” for a heavy lift next year.
“The future does not look bright, and what would save it, as someone who believes in a two-party system, is an implosion of Democrats into factionalism and a gubernatorial candidate that can win or nearly win as a function of the chaos from the forced resignation of Cuomo,” he said.
Mr. Cuomo was expected to face more challenges in the primary race next year after defeating far-left candidates Cynthia Nixon in 2018 and Zephyr Teachout in 2014.
Mrs. Hochul also is viewed through the moderate lens but has softer political elbows than her brash successor. She also has ties to upstate New York, which could help her with more moderate voters.
Mrs. Hochul has time to prove herself ahead of what could be a hard-fought primary contest. Voters will get the chance to weigh in on the public health and economic fallout from the coronavirus crisis and address other hot topics, including rising crime rates.
Other possible contenders include New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Ms. James.
If Mrs. Hochul survives the primary, her ties to Mr. Cuomo could weigh down her candidacy.
“Cuomo‘s shadow and his legacy will remain because Kathy Hochul was his No. 2,” Mr. Langworthy said. “His record is her record, whether she likes it or not.”