With just weeks to go before its convention in May, the New York State Republican Party may be about to forfeit its one chance to defeat Governor Andrew Cuomo this November.
Such an outcome could have national repercussions. Cuomo is seeking a big enough landslide to bury several of the state’s nine GOP House members in an effort to help the Democrats win back Capitol Hill. If Republicans nominate one of two candidates who have no realistic way of beating him, the result could hand Nancy Pelosi the Speaker’s gavel, while setting up Cuomo for a 2020 presidential run.
But can any Republican beat Cuomo this year?
Since the Democrats enjoy a 2:1 statewide registration advantage, the Republican would need a rare blend of traits.
Such a candidate would have to be charismatic and conservative enough to turn out the upstate GOP base in a non-presidential-election year, while convincing enough downstate Democrats in New York City and its suburbs to vote Republican. Such a candidate would need the right profile and a breakthrough issue to pull it off.
One such candidate may have emerged.
By any measure, Joe Holland is charismatic. He is telegenic and likable; his speaking style is cerebral and inspirational.
Holland is also conservative. He confronts what he calls New York’s “unholy trinity of over-taxation, overspending, and overregulation.” Criticizing Cuomo’s ban on natural gas development, he wants upstate New Yorkers to reap the job-creating benefits of the nation’s energy revolution. Opposing Cuomo’s restrictions on pipeline construction, he warns of the consequences should a severe natural or man-made disaster strike the northeast.
Holland was former Governor George Pataki’s first campaign co-chair and housing commissioner but is no career politician.
He has a unique story that encompasses the state. His father, Jerome, who was President Nixon’s ambassador to Sweden, had a stadium named after him in upstate Auburn. A scholar athlete like his father, Joe turned down a chance to play for the Dallas Cowboys after graduating Cornell. Instead he chose Harvard Law School and then Harlem, where he began rehabilitating the homeless.
As a former New Yorker who spent more than a decade assisting the homeless, I remember Joe’s strategy. He opened a nonprofit shelter where he helped change people’s lives while hiring them in businesses he brought to Harlem. I met several of these men during a visit to New York in the late 1990s. I recall the commendations governors, mayors, and presidents bestowed on him for his work. Last year, the politically pivotal downstate city of Yonkers declared a Joe Holland Day in his honor.
An ordained minister, Holland has a breakthrough issue that could galvanize both upstate conservatives and black and Hispanic urban Democrats. His plan would transfer power and resources from a wasteful welfare state to faith-based, values-driven neighborhood charities with proven records of uplifting the poor. It is a position that is fiscally responsible, culturally conservative, and socially compassionate.
And in case you haven’t guessed, Joe is a black Republican.
Holland faces two main opponents. John DeFrancisco, an amiable upstate senator, is the State Senate’s deputy majority leader, but a virtual rubber stamp for Cuomo’s budgets.
The GOP establishment favors Marcus Molinaro, the county executive for Dutchess County, a gateway suburb to upstate, as their nominee.
But Molinaro, like DeFrancisco, faces one gargantuan obstacle.
It’s what lies south of him — most of the state’s population, including lopsidedly Democrat New York City and its immediate suburbs.
Since nearly half of New Yorkers live in New York City alone, nominating either of Holland’s opponents would trigger a Big Apple blowout, likely handing Cuomo re-election without a fight. Even if they hold their own in the suburbs, victory is nearly impossible without better-than-expected numbers in the city.
Since George Pataki’s final gubernatorial victory in 2002, no New York Republican has won statewide office and New York City is a big reason. Not even Rob Astorino, then county executive for Westchester, a bedroom suburb of Manhattan, could overcome the Republicans’ colossal deficit in the city. He lost badly to Cuomo four years ago.
Clearly, New York Republicans must move further southward to find their candidate. With Molinaro, they are heading the wrong way, like a running back sprinting toward his own end zone.
Far better to give Joe Holland the ball if they want to reach Cuomo’s end zone.
And unless they would like a Speaker Pelosi and eventually a President Cuomo, Republicans around the nation – including Washington — should probably start paying attention to the antics in New York.
Richard Kelly is a freelance writer.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.