Astorino closes his party’s convention with a grim diagnosis

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Rob Astorino accepts the nomination. (AP PHOTO/SETH WENIG)
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RYE BROOK—Republicans wrapped up their two-day convention here with jabs at Andrew Cuomo and cheers for Westchester County executive Rob Astorino, who promised to reject the Common Core, repeal the SAFE Act, push ahead with natural gas hydrofracking and crack down on government corruption.

Astorino's basic message is one of economic gloom—that New York has been driven into the ground by overregulation, and by the decision-making of Democratic leaders.

“This is where our families first set foot on American soil,” Astorino said, taking the stage with his wife and young children (to the tune of Pharrell Williams' “Happy"). “What have our politicians done? They've nearly ruined a once-great state. … The statistics scream incompetence.”

“We elected leaders, year after year, who served themselves first, and us second,” Astorino continued. “I won re-election in deep blue Westchester by being willing to lose my seat.”

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In contrast to the intra-party fight they endured four years ago, Republicans are emerging from the convention relatively unified. The proceedings were scripted and undramatic.

But there remained among the participants a sense that they needed to justify their expressions of enthusiasm, and to convince others, if not themselves, of the plausibility of this year's ticket.

Numerous speakers mentioned the long odds the G.O.P. faces in blue New York, and Astorino himself continues to cast his candidacy as a David-and-Goliath contest, drawing comparisons between his election in 2009 and the surprise 1994 win of George Pataki over the current governor's father.

“One of his tasks in energizing the base is getting them to believe that he can win. It's also an important task in getting the media to take him seriously, and perhaps most importantly, getting a few of the big Republican funders who haven't been co-opted by Cuomo to open up their wallets,” said Larry Levy, executive dean of Hofstra University's Center for Suburban Studies. “But it's a different state than 20 years ago. The enrollment deficit is larger, the number of statewide power centers are fewer—there's no Al D'Amato or Rudy Giuliani—and Andrew Cuomo is more popular than his father was and has access to far more resources.”

This dynamic is embodied by Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos, a Long Islander whose status as the most powerful Republican in state government is made possible only by an alliance with breakaway Democrats.

While at least 15 Republican assemblyman attended, occupying the hotel bar until it closed at midnight on Wednesday, only three Republicans (and one unconventional Democrat, Ruben Diaz Sr.) from the State Senate showed up.

Cuomo has courted Senate Republicans, and many of them have yoked themselves to his popularity in the past.

Skelos took pains to dismiss any suggestion of ambivalence about his party's momentary champion.

“I'm a full-throated Republican so I support Rob Astorino … We're going to work hard for Rob Astorino in Nassau County,” he said. “I can't say it any louder: I support Rob Astorino.”

Pataki roused delegates with a speech on Wednesday, and appeared along with his wife, Libby, in an introductory video that preceded Astorino's 25-minute acceptance speech.

But Pataki said his appearance was prompted to support to John Cahill, his former law partner and aide who is running for attorney general. Pataki declined to criticize Cuomo, who bid, disastrously, for a chance to challenge him in 2002.

Delegates were upbeat in their rhetoric, contrasting their party's prospects this year with those in recent elections.  

“I think I was in high school the last time we had this much to cheer for,” said Broome County Republican chairman Bijoy Datta, 35, introducing lieutenant governor candidate Chris Moss.

Datta, a relatively new chairman, faulted insurgent standard bearer Carl Paladino for dragging down the Republican ticket in 2010.

Paladino attended this year's convention, and stayed on message, despite his simmering anger with Skelos. Erie County Republican chairman Nick Langworthy, who pushed Paladino in 2010, said this year would be different.

“We're united today. You're going to see a showcase of candidates rather than a fight over who's going to be the candidate,” he said. “We've learned from our lessons of the past, because we continue to lose statewide elections. Now, if we get behind these candidates today, it's the month of May.”

Democrats are painting Astorino as an extremist, which Astorino says is a sign of desperation.

As the county executive spoke, the state Department of Labor released new job figures that showed the unemployment rate had ticked to its lowest level since 2008.

Astorino chose instead to cite a report from a conservative group that ranked New York last in economic competitiveness, based on its levels of taxation and regulation of industry.

He ended his speech with a call for more engagement and a hopeful recounting of New York's achievements in business, music and sports, referencing Jackie Robinson and George Gershwin.

“Fiftieth?” Astorino said. “We scoff at that.”

Here's video of Astorino fielding reporters' questions after his nomination: