Donald Trump, the nation's most shameless political flirt, is at it again.
|SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS
or At The Bottom Of this Page
This time, the billionaire real estate mogul, reality TV star and perennial self-promoter is toying with the idea of challenging New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, saying the state's high taxes and tight gun-control laws make the Democratic incumbent vulnerable.
Trump will bring his nascent campaign against Cuomo to Cheektowaga Friday night when he headlines the Erie County Republican Party's annual Lincoln Leadership reception.
Erie County GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy says Trump will most certainly talk about why someone - maybe even Trump himself- needs to defeat Cuomo in November
"I think he's taking very serious consideration at looking at this race for Governor. ... He's going to lay out the case, I think, as to why we need a change in management in New York State and probably why he's the right man to take the job,"
-- Erie County Republican Party Chair Nick Langworthy.
"There's a level of excitement we haven't seen in a long time," Langworthy adds.
|Buffalo, NY (WBEN) Carl Paladino and Donald Trump met earlier this month in New York City, and following that meeting Paladino believes the real estate tycoon and reality TV show host will make a decision and run for governor soon.
" I feel he is close to making his decision, and his decision will be a positive one," says Paladino, the Buffalo developer and school board member who ran against Governor Cuomo in 2010.
Paladino says he got to see Donald Trump the person, not just Donald Trump the TV personality.
"He's very much a family man, very concerned about the people of the state, recognizes a person with his name recognition and intestinal fortitude can do something about it and is obligated to consider running for the office of governor," says Paladino.
"It's a matter for people with success in life, you come to a recognition you can do things others can't do, he was very plain about that."
Paladino believes Friday's event at Salvatore's will help Trump seal a decision to campaign.
"It's probably going to be one of the biggest rallies we've ever had with 600 people showing up," notes Paladino.
"I think he recognizes that and this is a stepping stone in confirming what we all hope he will do."
Trump has met with Republican leaders and has pledged to spend tens of millions of dollars on a potential campaign, the same kind of motions he's made once before for governor and several times for president over the years without ever actually jumping in.
For now, he's in no hurry to make up his mind."I've got time," he told The Associated Press in an interview this week. "I believe - and many people believe - I'm the only Republican who can win. I think I would win easily."
Trump, who Forbes estimates is worth $3.5 billion, has vowed that he'll only run if the state's Republican Party rallies behind him and he faces no challengers for the nomination.
"I've said it very clearly: If the Republican Party can unify and get their act together, I would spend the money and run," Trump said.
|Buffalo's Early News In-Depth: HEAR Trump Supporter Michael Caputo (pictured L) with WBEN's John Zach & Susan Rose
A conversation in three parts
Pt I | Pt II | Pt III
Exclusive WBEN Audio
On The WBEN Liveline
Nick Langworthy, Erie Co. Republican Chairman
Jimmy Vielkind, Capitol New York.com
Trump's rumored entry, however, has been met with some skepticism.
Trump briefly discussed running for governor once before, in 2006, and talked about White House bids in 2000, 2004 and 2008 before pulling the plug every time. He made his most substantial move yet toward running for president in 2012, giving speeches to a number of Republican groups and loudly questioning whether President Barack Obama was born in the United States.
Trump, a favorite in some conservative circles and highly visible thanks to the success of his reality show "The Apprentice," hovered near the top of some GOP polls in the months before the primary season started.
"I left leading in all the polls," said Trump, exaggerating his standing somewhat. He denied being a political flirt and expressed some regret for not running, saying he endorsed nominee Mitt Romney, "but unfortunately he let us down. He tried, but he let us down."
Trump is heading to Buffalo on Friday to meet with Erie County GOP leaders. While he believes Cuomo is vulnerable, it could be a tough challenge.
Cuomo, who was elected in 2010 and may be eyeing a White House run in 2016, has strong poll numbers and a $33 million campaign war chest. On the strength of a massive advantage in liberal New York City, Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1 statewide.
But some Republicans are toying with the idea of challenging him, including Rob Astorino, an official in suburban Westchester County north of New York City, and Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino, who lost to Cuomo four years ago. (See above right)
Astorino, fresh off a comfortable re-election win, is favored by some in the GOP establishment and has been traveling around the state talking to potential supporters. He said last week that he's leaning toward challenging Cuomo though he faces a steep financial disadvantage. His campaign has about $1 million on hand.
The GOP nominee is not decided in a primary but rather in a vote of 400-odd state committee chairs who will gather at a convention in May. Trump had harsh words for the man who will preside over that gathering, state committee chairman Ed Cox.
"The problem with the Republican Party in New York is that it's run by a guy who doesn't know how to lead," Trump said. "Look at the recent mayoral race, the last gubernatorial race. He doesn't know how to win."
In 2010, Cuomo defeated Paladino by nearly 30 percentage points. And this past November in the New York City mayoral election, Democrat Bill de Blasio routed Republican Joe Lhota by nearly 50 percentage points.
Cox refused to respond to Trump's comments but made clear that he wasn't going to ask anyone to abandon their campaign to clear a path for the reality TV star.
"Anyone who wants to be a candidate needs to go through our process, That's for Donald Trump and that's for Rob Astorino."
- NYS Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox
Hear more with Cox, from Hardline, The WBEN Politics Program (Sunday 10a-12noon)
But the "no primary" scenario is one that has support, even among those who prefer Astorino to Trump.
" I don't know that anyone wants a primary," says John Faso, the former state assemblyman and Buffalo Control Board chairman who ran for governor the last time the state GOP picked a candidate without a convention
Faso went on to lose to Eliot Spitzer in 2006, when former Massachusetts Governor William Weld ceded to a Faso candidacy even though he had the delegates to force a primary .
"The Paladino-Lazio primary in 2010 was more of an anomaly in this process . generally this gets decided through a kind of intramural competition that ends up in a party convention," Faso says.
But Faso - who like Cox is quick to praise Astorino-- tells WBEN that so far he hasn't seen Trump engaged in the kind of statewide push that could lead to that sort of convention.
"If he's willing to jump into the pool and become a candidate and travel from Penn Yan to Patchogue and Amherst to Albany and down in New York City and campaign on issues then I would change my view, but I have not seen one iota of evidence that suggests he's a real candidate."
- John Faso, 2006 GOP Candidate for Governor
Trump supporters suggest that such a campaign could begin Friday with the Buffalo-area appearance.
" I think Donald Trump is going to bring a positive message, he is the one candidate who has a positive message about job development, about changing this state. What's going to be nice about Friday is he is going to energize a lot of people because we have gone from a now to a maybe to a very strong possibility," says Assy. David DiPietro, who was part of the delegation that first brought the idea of a run to Trump.
"This is another step in the procedure.Mr. Trump has done literally everything we have asked of him. He's been great, and this is the next step, coming to Buffalo, and after that we'll go to the next step and we'll see where that takes us. Right now, it's early in the game, it's still January, so we aren't in any crunch yet."
- Assy. David DiPietro, (R-East Aurora)
At 67, Trump has fashioned himself and his products into a symbol for a luxury lifestyle that would seemingly be at odds with the focus on income inequality put forth by his hometown's new mayor. Trump, who has also not squashed talk he could run for president in 2016, said he opposes de Blasio's plan to raise taxes on the wealthy to fund universal prekindergarten.
"I'm a big believer in pre-K," he said. "But you can't raise taxes on people in New York. They're at a tipping point and you don't want to be driving people out of New York."
But Trump said he would reach across the aisle to offer good wishes to de Blasio.