ALBANY, N.Y. — On the day Cynthia Nixon officially entered New York’s race for governor, the state Republican Party did not exactly keep its poker face.
Up on Twitter went a photograph of Ed Cox, its chairman, in the famed V-for-victory pose of Richard Nixon, with his slogan: “Nixon’s the One.” (That Cox is the former president’s son-in-law made the joke even more piquant.)
Cynthia Nixon’s candidacy — presenting a Democratic primary challenge for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo — has been a rare jolt of good news for the Republicans.
“When you see people from every end of the political spectrum thinking it’s time for a change, that’s extremely important,” said state Sen. John A. DeFrancisco, 71, a Syracuse-area Republican running for that party’s nomination. “And it does not bode well for Gov. Cuomo, no matter who the candidate is.”
Democrats hold enormous advantages in general elections in New York, with a more than 2-1 edge in registered voters, and a nearly two-decade-long winning streak. The last Republican to win a statewide race was Gov. George E. Pataki in 2002.
Republican consultants argue that Nixon’s entry into the race will help their party’s candidates in several ways, pushing Cuomo to the left — he is considered a centrist by most political observers, and dismissed as one by Nixon — as well as scuffing him up on a variety of issues, including his handling of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Cuomo will have to spend money, they argue, dipping into a formidable $30 million war chest. And Nixon has already signaled she will use the age-old Albany issue of corruption — including the recent conviction of Joseph Percoco, formerly one of Cuomo’s closest aides and friends — to batter his stewardship of state government.
There’s also, they say, an even more tantalizing possibility.
“Either he’ll come out battered,” said William F.B. O’Reilly, an adviser for DeFrancisco’s campaign, “or she’ll win.”
The Republicans would no doubt welcome a Nixon victory; the party has two declared candidates, an undeclared candidate who may well be the front-runner, and a renegade running as an independent who wants to legalize marijuana.
DeFrancisco’s principal opponent at this point is Marcus J. Molinaro, the Dutchess County executive, who has been quietly amassing — and then loudly publicizing — endorsements from a variety of county chairmen and other political groups around the state. He has made no secret of his intention to run for governor, and is positioning himself as a youthful, energetic alternative to Cuomo (and DeFrancisco, for that matter).
“I am deeply humbled by the challenge,” he said, in a March 14 email saying he would run. “But my determination is driven by the need.”
The only thing he has not done is actually formally kick off his campaign, preferring to largely wage the race thus far through news releases and closed-door meetings with Republican decision-makers. Nonetheless, Molinaro, 42, has assumed the posture of the prohibitive favorite, going so far as to issue another email in mid-March announcing he had secured the endorsements of 50 percent of the necessary delegates to secure the nomination when the party meets later this spring.
Molinaro is to formally begin his campaign April 2, likely in Tivoli, where, in 1995, he became the youngest mayor in the United States at 19, according to his old Dutchess County campaign website.
But the DeFrancisco camp notes that they have a far more substantial bankroll at this point — some $1.5 million — and a willingness to stay in the race until the convention. They also have questioned their opponent’s strategy of rolling out electronic endorsements, and have said they will “keep their powder dry,” and their costs down, until Molinaro starts to fight for the nomination in person.
“It’s a bizarre situation,” O’Reilly said. “He’s not on the campaign trail.”
The state Republican convention, where a nominee will be selected, is scheduled for May.
No matter which Republican is the candidate, E. O’Brien Murray, a Republican consultant, predicted that Nixon “would distract Andrew Cuomo and makes him spend resources of time and money on the race.”
The governor’s supporters dismiss the notion that Nixon could do damage to Cuomo, citing a raft of progressive accomplishments, including raising the minimum wage, a paid family leave program and the legalization of same-sex marriage. They also point out that Republicans had high hopes that a previous, and surprisingly strong, primary challenge — from a little-known law professor, Zephyr Teachout, in 2014 — would also weaken Cuomo. But he handily won re-election that year over Rob Astorino.
The governor’s campaign seemingly is not paying Nixon, or potential Republican candidates, any mind.
“While Trump and Washington Republicans threaten to divide this country and take us backwards, Gov. Cuomo’s sole focus this year is on turning red districts blue to help win back the House and elect more Democrats to the state Senate,” said Austin Shafran, a campaign spokesman.
The recent optimism in Republican ranks comes after several months of gloomy developments, beginning in November when Astorino, the party’s 2014 nominee, lost his bid for re-election as Westchester County executive and announced he would not run against Cuomo again.
On New Year’s Day, another putative candidate, millionaire Harry Wilson, also demurred. DeFrancisco entered the race in late January, but Assemblyman Brian Kolb, an upstate Republican who serves as minority leader, dropped out.
Another candidate, Joel Giambra, the former Erie County executive, bolted the Republican primary process to run as an independent, and wants to legalize cannabis to help pay for state programs. Joseph Holland, a former housing official under Pataki, also is vying for the bid, though he is little known.
Still, nothing has seemingly excited the GOP more than Nixon’s entrance.
“The race for governor is going Hollywood,” Molinaro’s campaign said on Monday, shortly after Nixon announced her plans to run. “And our chances to win in November just got a whole lot better.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.