By LIZ BUTTON
When asked about a pot-ential run for governor in 2014, Westchester’s Republican county executive, Rob Astorino, has thus far refused to answer directly, although he has called running a “definite maybe,” most recently at a Jan. 21 public forum in Mamaroneck.
However, a website launched on Feb. 13 called robastorino.com, lent a bit more credibility to the prediction he is preparing to run against Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Astorino was re-elected as county executive in November to another four-year term after defeating Democrat Noam Bramson, the mayor of New Rochelle. Astorino’s recently launched website has the same web address as the one used for his re-election campaign, in which he received 55 percent of the vote in a county where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by roughly 130,000 voters. The website is paid for by Astorino’s newly established campaign committee; at the bottom of the site, a textbox reads “Paid for by Astorino for Governor.”
On Feb. 14, Bill O’Reilly, Astorino’s campaign spokesman, said the new campaign committee was formed some time within the last 10 days, and its existence allows Astorino to begin raising money for an exploratory committee for governor. Astorino will make a final decision on whether he will commit to a run by the end of February or early March, O’Reilly said.
Astorino has chosen Michael Lawler as his campaign committee manager. On Feb. 3, Lawler announced he left his job as state Republican Party executive director to become a campaign consultant for the county
“He is a super-sharp guy and he’s well-respected. He knows every corner of the state very well,” said O’Reilly, who added Lawler also worked closely with Astorino’s team during last year’s county executive race. If Astorino were to gather the funds he needs and set about to run, he would face a significant challenge in a blue state dominated by Democrats against a candidate with a high-profile name and an unrivaled amount of money in the bank.
As of Nov. 1, 2013, registered Democrats out-numbered Republicans in New York by a more than 2-to-1 margin, 5,826,311 to 2,795,785.
A Quinnipiac University poll released on Feb. 13 reported that 63 percent of New Yorkers approve of Cuomo’s job performance during his first term as governor. The survey, which polled 1,499 state voters between Feb. 6 and 10, indicates Cuomo currently has a 2-to-1 lead over Astorino in a hypothetical matchup. With Astorino clearly the Republican frontrunner, the state GOP is banking on his decision to seek the state’s highest elected office. If the county executive were to turn down the opportunity, the party would struggle to find another suitable Republican candidate, according to political pundits. At the moment, the other most talked about names in Republican circles are real estate mogul Donald Trump and Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino, who was defeated by Cuomo in 2011. Trump tweeted on Dec. 19, “I like Astorino. He’s a friend and really good guy. Sadly, he has zero chance of beating Cuomo and the 2-to-1 Dems for governor!”
Over the last month, Astorino has been traveling the state to meet with Republican and Conservative Party leaders to gain their support. State Conservative Party chairman Mike Long said he would rally around Astorino if he decided to stage a gubernatorial run.
“I think he is a very good candidate. I think he is articulate; I think he is smart; I think he understands the issues of the state of New York,” Long said. “I think his experience as Westchester County Executive and the way he has governed for the past four years is ample proof that he would be able to turn this state around.”
The state Conservative Party shares Astorino’s values of keeping taxes low, keeping the size of government small and governing in a common sense manner, Long said.
No Republican since 1974 has won statewide office in New York without the support of the Conservative Party.
O’Reilly said Astorino is currently taking commitments from individual donors while he mulls his decision. Astorino currently has a little more than $1 million in his campaign coffers and will be releasing updated figures in March, he said.
The county executive raised $7 million for his re-election campaign in 2013. As of Jan. 15, Cuomo reported $33.3 million in financing.
The last Westchester County Executive to run for governor was Andy O’Rourke, a Republican, who led the county from 1983 to 1998. O’Rourke ran in 1986 and was defeated by sitting Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo, father of Andrew, who held the governorship from 1983 to 1994.