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There’s an unwritten rule for New York Republicans seeking office: To win an election, get the support of the Conservative Party.
With the Empire State’s GOP trying to wrest control of two seats that the Democrats captured in the past cycle in Republican- leaning districts, its candidates already are courting the Conservatives. But some Republicans wonder whether this small but powerful third party, which has staked out ground to the right of the GOP, will force their hopefuls too far away from the center.
Since New York permits cross-endorsements, Republicans who win the support of the Conservatives almost always gain access to both parties’ lines on the general election ballot.
Close races could be on the horizon in the 19th and 20th districts, both of which have upward of 9,000 registered Conservatives, so getting the party’s endorsement seems particularly important to some Republican candidates in those parts of the state.
“It’s obviously something I want very much. It’s something that I’m working hard to earn,” said former state Republican Party Chairman Sandy Treadwell, the leader in fundraising to date among a pack of Republicans aiming to unseat freshman Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) in the 20th district.
The GOP’s fundraising leader in the 19th district is businessman and Federal Thrift Investment Board Chairman Andrew Saul, the favorite of national Republicans to oust freshman Rep. John Hall (D). Saul, like Treadwell, is trying to woo Conservatives.
But whether their courtship will pay off remains to be seen, as state Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long, a 67-year-old liquor store owner from Brooklyn who carries the reputation of a tried-and-true hardliner, said he is still watching and waiting.
While the Conservatives almost always support the GOP candidate and rarely run their own in House races, this could be because Republican leaders consider the preferences of Long’s party when they decide who to support in their primaries. Those who are fiscally conservative and oppose abortion rights are more likely to win Conservative approval.
Michael Edelman, a New York Republican consultant and commentator, said the net result is that the GOP often hamstrings the campaigns of moderates and nominates candidates who are too far to the right for swing districts such as the 19th and 20th, even though both districts were long represented by Republicans with moderate-to-conservative voting records.
“The problem in New York is that the Conservative Party has entirely too much to say about who the Republican Party runs,” he said. “Any candidate that has to lock step with the Conservative social right-wing agenda in order to get the nomination ... is not going to beat the [Democratic] incumbent.”
But Long said his party is simply trying to support candidates who distinguish themselves from the Democrats.
“I don’t think the way to win ... is to move to the left,” he said.
The real test of Long’s convictions may come when his party has to decide about Treadwell and Saul. Both have been touting their fiscal conservatism, but they also support abortion rights.