For years, Reynolds — a former Erie County GOP chairman who has served on his local town board, on the Erie County Legislature and in the state Assembly — led a muscular Republican political machine in Western New York. The local GOP reached its zenith in the mid- to late-1990s, when Paxon was still a Congressional powerhouse, Reynolds was Assembly Minority Leader, and George Pataki, New York’s first Republican governor in a generation, was at the height of his popularity and able to steer money and patronage to the region.
But the decline of the Republican Party in Western New York has followed the sheer collapse of the state GOP — two circumstances that could hinder Reynolds’ re-election bid.
On Election Day, Republicans are expected to badly lose all four statewide contests in New York, including the race against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D).
In Erie County, Republican leaders in recent years hitched their star to County Executive Joel Giambra (R), a former Democrat who switched parties and has become enormously unpopular with the voters. And one former Pataki political adviser noted that in last month’s GOP Senate primary, the Erie County Republican organization couldn’t even deliver the county for its preferred candidate, who wound up losing anyway.
“The Republican organization up there is in total shambles,” the strategist said.
But James Domagalski, the Erie GOP chairman, vowed that the party will do all it can to save Reynolds, and said Republican activists are doubly determined to aid him now that he has become ensnared in the Foley scandal.
Domagalski pledged “to find every one of” the people that Reynolds has helped over the years and “get them to do what Tom never asks them to do — tell people what he does.”
“He is the most critical person to the future of the region, and we are not going to let him get swept up in something he didn’t have anything to do with,” Domagalski said.
Even if the local GOP organization isn’t as strong as it once was, Republicans believe that Reynolds’ own team and political apparatus is still solid.
“Our grass-roots efforts are second to none,” said L.D. Platt, a Reynolds spokesman.
Still, in what is sure to be a Democratic year in the Empire State and in Western New York, Reynolds’ prominence as a national GOP leader may hurt him. One Republican consultant with close ties to Western New York said that even without the Foley scandal, Reynolds probably would not have gotten more than 52 percent against Davis this year.
“Tommy, because of his position, identified himself as Mr. Republican at a time when the Republican brand was going downhill,” this consultant said.
“It was always going to be a competitive race,” Paxon agreed.
Although first lady Laura Bush headlined a fundraiser for Reynolds in Buffalo last week, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is scheduled to appear with him at a rally in Rochester on Oct. 20, no other national party figures are expected to campaign on his behalf.