Astorino starts an uphill battle in the Bronx

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Rob Astorino. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
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Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino kicked off his campaign for governor on Thursday with a stop in one of the state's most conspicuously Democratic districts.

“Why not the Bronx?" Astorino, a Republican, asked a reporter after a short speech in front of the county's surrogate courthouse.

"Just like Ronald Reagan did—I think in 1980, he came to the south Bronx, and said, ‘I may not get a lot of votes here, but I will represent everybody when I’m in office,’" Astorino said. "And it’s the same thing for me. In Westchester County, just like in New York State, I’m going to go where Republicans don’t typically go.”

Astorino will need to go a lot of those places, if he hopes to overcome a two-to-one registration disadvantage, a fund-raising deficit that currently stands at $32 million, and a gulf of name recognition that sees him trailing Andrew Cuomo by 40 points in public polls.

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In the five boroughs, the numbers are especially daunting. Only 6.2 percent of the Bronx's registered voters are Republicans—a handful of whom stood behind Astorino for his speech on Thursday.

They were joined by a dozen cameras and perhaps twice as many protesters, from NARAL Pro-Choice New York and New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, who handed out fliers attacking Astorino's record as county executive.

Asked about his positions on social issues, Astorino stayed on his economic message.

“I respect everyone’s personal points of views," he said. "I’ve had a very good relationship with our LGBT community in Westchester. I have a good relationship with everybody, whether we agree, personally, or not. 

"And I will continue to have conversations with every New Yorker," he added, before pivoting back to his talking points about jobs and the economy.

Astorino cited his win in Westchester as proof he could attract Democratic votes, including Hispanic constituencies across the state.

“All I know is, I had the same situation in 2009 when I started: ‘You can’t win. It’s two-to-one Democrat. Nobody’s gonna vote for you. Change your positions. And the incumbent has so much money,’” he said. 

“I put together what I thought the voters need to hear—not necessarily what they wanted to hear—but what they need to hear. And I had a real, adult conversation with the voters of Westchester. And they accepted my plan, and we put my plan in place. And we’re much better off,” he said, before reading a shorter version of his speech in Spanish.

The Bronx event kicked off a media blitz that included a brief interview on the Albany-based radio show "The Capitol Pressroom," before a scheduled stop in Buffalo on Thursday afternoon. Astorino stuck mostly to his economic themes in the interview, but also parried questions about his potential Republican rivals, including real estate mogul Donald Trump, by noting they all have basically the same goals. 

And he shrugged off the moderate Republicans who have lined up with Cuomo by saying it's still early, what with the Yankees are still at spring training in Florida, and the baseball season yet to formally begin.

The enthusiasm was tepid among some Republicans at the Capitol yesterday, following Astorino's video announcement that he'd challenge Cuomo.

"I indicated that whoever the party endorses, that I’ll be supportive of that," said Senate co-leader Dean Skelos, who has had a generally productive relationship with Cuomo. "You know what, he’s done a good job in Westchester, he certainly is articulate, comes from the suburban community, so I think he’ll do a decent job."

—additional reporting by Jimmy Vielkind and Laura Nahmias