With suburban wins, Republicans see hope for 2014

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ALBANY—With Republican victories in Westchester and Nassau counties Tuesday, the state G.O.P. will be better situated to make a bid for statewide posts next year, including for the governor's office, analysts said.

Without these suburban strongholds, Republicans would lack the momentum and legitimacy to promote candidates who are taken seriously in 2014, especially when the party struggles even to field contenders in mayoral races for upstate cities.

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino gave his victory speech a few minutes before 11 p.m. Tuesday night, according to the Journal News. At midnight, the incumbent had 55 percent of the vote with more than half of precincts reporting. Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano also declared victory, claiming 60 percent of the vote, Newsday reported.

Astorino has been floated as a possible challenger for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and although he'll face a significant fundraising challenge and the governor's relatively high popularity, his win in the affluent suburb where Democrats have a two-to-one enrollment advantage shows he has cross-party appeal.

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“The statewide Republican party is very strong, just like four years ago,” State G.O.P. chair Ed Cox said, referring to the 2009 elections when Astorino and Mangano first won their seats. “I think that all this forms a very strong platform for the Republican party to give a very tough race for governor.”

Cox wouldn't comment on Astorino's potential candidacy, but he said there are three or four Republicans who are considering challenging Cuomo, and will be officially announcing their interest some time after Tuesday's elections.

Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, said the G.O.P. still has a lot of work to do, but Tuesday's wins indicate it's possible for individual candidates to distance themselves from New Yorkers' dissatisfaction with national Republicans, particularly following the federal government shutdown and the fight over raising the debt ceiling.

Levy said it's crucial for the G.O.P. to maintain power in the New York City suburbs, as well as suburban areas outside other large cities, like Buffalo and Rochester, for the party to have “a generic fighting chance” in 2014.

“If the Republican Party is ever to reassert itself as a legitimate contender for statewide offices, it has to reestablish itself in these important suburban areas that once were major strongholds for the G.O.P. but now are swing areas or even leaning Democratic,” Levy said. “If there is no case in these swing suburban areas, then nobody in their right mind would want to challenge Cuomo, because what do they build on?”

Levy said Astorino's double-digit win surely puts him on the short list of possible Cuomo challengers next year, but “he would have to do a lot of thinking” before entering what would be an expensive and contentious race with tough odds.

He said Astorino might run just for the purposes of establishing statewide name recognition to support future ambitions for higher office.

“If I am a Republican who doesn't have to give up his office to run against Cuomo, and I may one day want to run for higher office in the state, this wouldn't be the worst opportunity to get your name out there, because the bar of expectations would be so low,” Levy said.

Astorino wouldn't address rumors about his candidacy, saying his focus has been squarely on winning re-election, and an upcoming planned family vacation.

Astorino pointed to local Republican victories as an indication of the party's strength in the state.

“The Republicans statewide have had a problem winning, but that's not the case on the county and local level where Republicans have won consistently as county executives, legislators, county clerks, supervisors, mayors—and that's important, because that is where a lot of the decisions get made that affect people,” Astorino said.

Barry Caro, spokesman for Astorino's challenger, New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson, said Astorino was out of touch with Westchester voters, particularly on social issues, like abortion. Astorino is pro-life.

Cox and both newly re-elected Republican executives argued that social issues weren't relevant for most county voters.

Mangano said his and Astorino's fiscal policies appealed to suburban voters, and that's why they were able to prevail, despite the Democratic edge in both counties.

“It obviously highlights that the fiscal and economic policies put forth by myself and Rob were approved by the residents, and that we're supposed to keep on this path,” Mangano said. “And it's a path that doesn't take more of their tax money and basically does more with less.”

Mangano's challenger, Tom Suozzi, served as county executive in Nassau from 2002 to 2009 before Mangano unseated him in a close election. He hoped to regain the position Tuesday.

“It's a combination of the fact that people are not holding local candidates responsible for their dissatisfaction with the national party, and that the Republicans ran a very good campaign,” Suozzi said, reacting to the loss. “Republicans are terrible at governing, but they're very good at politics.”