Tea Party group asks GOP to wait to endorse Chris Lee replacement, threatens third-party challenge

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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The seven Republican county chairmen in New York’s 26th District are set to vote tonight on the GOP nominee to replace Chris Lee, but a Tea Party group is trying to throw a wrench in that schedule. TEA New York wrote a letter requesting that the GOP hold off on making an endorsement, saying that their members have not had enough time to vet the potential candidates. The group threatened that if the committee goes ahead and endorses tonight as planned, they might face a challenge from a third-party candidate.

Former Rep. Lee resigned earlier this month after it was revealed that he had sent shirtless pictures of himself to a woman he met on Craigslist.

“We at TEA New York are respectfully asking the Republican leadership to hold off on picking their candidate and stop acting so hastily,” says the letter, asking that the endorsement wait until after the Tea Party has had a chance to examine all the candidates in a candidate forum tentatively planned for two weeks from now. The letter noted that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not yet called for a special election, and that legally he is not required to do so.

The letter attacks State Assemblywoman Jane Corwin, perceived as the frontrunner for the nomination.

“From the very beginning and within hours the republicans circled the wagons around Jane Corwin. Why? It has been stated over and over again that she can fund her own campaign, but there are others that are in the same position … This seat is NOT for sale, but that has clearly been the perception with the people,” the letter runs.

Rus Thompson of TEA New York acknowledged that it was possible that the Tea Party groups could ultimately decide they favored Corwin, but said that there were “a lot of questions that need to be answered” before a decision could be made.

“We have no idea where Jane Corwin stands on any of those issues,” he said, pointing to abortion, the war in Afghanistan, and whether or not she would caucus with the Republicans or with the Tea Party if she were elected, among others.

Corwin, for her part, said in a statement that she felt her agenda and record were “completely in line with those associated with the Tea Party agenda,” and promised to “work very closely with local Tea Party Leaders” should she be elected.

Corwin received an endorsement from former gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, a Tea Party candidate, when she first expressed interest in running.

“I’ve spoken to Carl,” Thompson said. “We agree to disagree on this.”

The state assemblywoman has a good chance of getting the nomination, according to Nick Langworthy, chairman of the Erie County GOP.

“She did a very nice job yesterday and I think a lot of people are very impressed,” said Langworthy. “She’s an excellent candidate,” he continued, “I would think she’s got a very good shot at being nominated.”

Langworthy’s vote will have the most weight when the county chairs vote this evening because Erie County received the majority of the Republican vote in the last election.

He dismissed TEA New York’s letter as Thompson speaking for himself without any kind of group support.

“I greatly respect people that have gotten involved under the mantle of the Tea Party,” he said, “but there’s not one single voice.”

“I disagree with this notion that we should slow up this process,” he continued. “I respect Rus, but we have to move ahead with the business of the Republican Party.”

Thompson said that in that case, Republicans risked having to contend with a third-party candidate. He pointed to businessman Jack Davis and David Bellavia, a veteran of the Iraq war, as two candidates who had hinted that they might run on third party candidates. Bellavia, Thompson noted, is already getting some national support from fellow veterans.

“Do we want to see someone run on a third-party line? I don’t think so,” he said.

It is not an empty threat. Jack Davis, who reportedly sang his qualifications to the committee on Sunday, literally, also “made some news yesterday with us when he declared that he would pursue the Democratic nomination” if he did not receive the Republican endorsement, Langworthy said. The news, he said, was “not well received by the Republican leaders.”

“David Bellavia would not give a straight answer as to whether or not he would pursue a third-party line,” Langworthy said.

The committee will vote on a Republican candidate this evening.