State GOP chief Cox quits;   Erie County leader emerges

Associated Press In this Jan. 11, 2017, file photo, New York Republican Chairman Ed Cox talks with reporters at SUNY Albany.

ALBANY — Erie County GOP boss Nick Langworthy is poised to become the next chairman of the New York Republican Party, whose leader, Ed Cox, signaled Monday he will become a fundraiser for President Donald Trump's re-election effort.

Cox's departure came amid an insurgent challenge to his leadership by Langworthy, a 38-year-old Niagara University graduate who had lined up sufficient support to overtake Cox at the next party reorganization meeting, according to GOP insiders.

Party activists have become increasingly uneasy with the state GOP's poor showing in statewide contests. The party last scored a statewide victory in 2002 when then Gov. George Pataki won a third term.

While Democrats have built a major voter enrollment advantage over the GOP in New York, several Republican activists said their party shouldn't cede statewide elections to the opposition. They cited the example of Massachusetts Gov. Charles Baker, a successful and popular Republican in a blue state.

"Nick Langworthy has a proven record of winning in a blue county," said Tom Dadey, chairman of the Onondaga County GOP. "There is no reason why we can't win statewide with the right candidate, the right message and the right resources."

One of the biggest challenges faced by Langworthy will be finding a way to help the GOP rake in more money for its campaigns. In the 2018 election, incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, won a third term after spending more than $30 million, far surpassing the $1.3 million spent by Republican challenger Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess County executive.

"It's very hard to raise money when people don't think you can win," said Thomas Doherty, a veteran Republican strategist and former member of Pataki's cabinet. He suggested that the state GOP aim to raise $10 million to $15 million each year while seeking to position itself as the voice of "middle-class working people" and champions of an effective public education system.

The upstate county Republican leaders who signaled their support for Langworthy included: Rich Andres of Niagara County, Vincent Casale of Otsego County, Clark Currier of Clinton County, John Gereau of Essex County and Shelley Mulverhill of Franklin County.

The son-in-law of the late President Richard Nixon, Cox, in a statement, focused on his future with the Trump campaign while calling his decade-long stint as state party boss "one of the most rewarding chapters of my life."

"Ensuring President Trump is re-elected is the most critical task at hand and I'm honored to take on the important role of helping deliver the resources he needs for a huge victory next year," said Cox, who took no salary from the Republican party.

The state GOP was left on wobbly legs last fall when Democrats seized control of the state Senate in a "blue wave" election reflecting what polls suggest is Trump's unpopularity among New York voters.

Democrats now control all four statewide offices, both U.S. Senate seats and both houses of the state Legislature. Republicans hold just six of New York's 27 congressional seats.

When Cox took the party helm in 2009, the Republicans had already experienced a string of major losses. Of immediate concern to party activists is the fact the Democrats have nearly 6.4 million registered voters in the state, while the GOP has just 2.4 million.

Patrick McCarthy, a former director of the state GOP, said Langworthy's energetic approach to elections is reminiscent of Thomas Reynolds, a former congressman and state lawmaker from Erie County.

"Nick is willing to do the non-glamorous things that have to be done to win elections," McCarthy said. "I don't think there is any level of detail that is too small for him to handle. He is a very hard worker."

The reorganization of the GOP state committee is expected to result in a staff shakeup when Cox leaves, according to party insiders.

Cox is expected to remain in place until the state GOP holds its organizational meeting in July. The Republican Party, in an advisory released Monday night, described Langworthy as its "presumptive" chairman. Langworthy and Cox were slated to meet Tuesday morning in Albany.

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhi.com