As Donald Trump continues to reshape the Republican Party at every level, Erie County GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy officially took over as Chair of the New York State Republican Committee on July 1.
Langworthy, 38, who served on the executive committee of the president’s transition team, replaces former chair Ed Cox, an ally of Senator John McCain in his presidential bid who presided over a long drought for GOP candidates statewide, as well as the loss of control in the State Senate after 10 years of effective control.
Langworthy effectively utilized wide support from the state’s Republican County chairs, particularly upstate, to counter the former chair’s power base in Westchester County, New York County and Long Island.
The new chair’s livelihood is politics ( he owns a polling firm), and Langworthy brings a reputation for overcoming disadvantages in party registration and intra-party backbiting in Erie County, which includes the city of Buffalo. He will have to overcome more of the same as state chair, where the GOP is without a major statewide victory since George Pataki won his third term as governor in 2002.
Following the Democrats’ culling of members of the Independent Democratic Caucus in 2018, former chair Cox saw the GOP lose eight seats previously occupied by Republicans in the State Senate, leaving just 23 Republican Senators in the 63 seat body.
With their new majorities, Democrats have enacted a host of emphatic new measures that were stalled for the years of GOP control, including publicly-funded state elections and driving licenses for illegal immigrants.
Whereas Cox was seen as a genteel Wall Street attorney, a long-time party man who will now go to work on President Trump’s campaign for reelection, Langworthy came to prominence as a newly-elected, 29-year-old Erie County GOP chair in 2010. He is credited with taking advantage of state convention rules to allow polarizing gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino to deliver a speech that Cox as state chair had sought to avoid, giving his speaking slot to nominate Paladino to the candidate himself. Langworthy was the only county chair to endorse Paladino, the eventual nominee. The move stunned Cox and signaled Langworthy as a man worth watching as the state party looks to find its footing and electoral competitiveness at the highest levels of state government.
In Erie County, Langworthy secured a Republican majority in the County Legislature in a district with a 2:1 registration advantage for Democrats. Republicans have performed well in county-wide elections in spite of this handicap, through effective tactics like virtually conceding races in Democrat-heavy districts in Buffalo and consolidating one of the few Republican strongholds remaining in the state where candidates like Trump and Paladino hold currency with the local leadership.
At the end of his first week as state chairman, Langworthy seized upon Governor Andrew Cuomo’s appointment of Democratic State Chairman Jay Jacobs to the Public Campaign Financing Commission, empowered to issue ‘findings’ with regard to publicly financed elections, including qualifications and contribution limits.
These findings become binding without action by the legislature, giving the head of the Democratic Party significant power over a process with obvious political implications. Perhaps the new chair senses that publicly financed elections are not strongly supported by a public that sees the virtual certainty of rejection for most incumbents in New York.
Self-dealing will become more of a temptation for Democrats in complete control of state government, and indulging in such temptations has led to the collapse of one-party control in previous eras and other states. Langworthy will have to play watchdog and seize hold of any perceived profligacy or extravagant pet projects from the Dems. He can build from the bottom of the ballot up, swing county legislatures and elect county executives. But even in the event Langworthy can retake the eight seats lost in 2018, Republicans would then have to buy back Simcha Felder given the now-vanquished IDC.
The new GOP state chairman faces significant hurdles to reach the point of serious relevance again statewide. Nick Langworthy is young, seasoned, and has demonstrated tactical facility and electoral numeracy. Whether he can recreate his county model across the state is a question impossible to answer until the Republican Party can manufacture a single statewide victory while staving off legislative irrelevance.