ALBANY -- After backing two failed gubernatorial nominees, failing to win statewide office and weathering a two-year term characterized by near-constant grumbling, Republican State Chairman Ed Cox is cruising, unopposed, to another two-year term.
Contrast that with two years ago, when Cox, a Manhattan attorney and the son-in-law of Richard M. Nixon, spent the summer campaigning against incumbent Chairman Joe Mondello and, when he announced he wouldn't run, bested Henry Wojtaszek of Niagara County.
This year, several potential candidates waved off. And after several staff changes and new, formalized leadership committees, the generally mild Cox doesn't seem so bad.
"The reality is, there were grumblings. But when people take a step back and see that this is a difficult job, reality sets in," said Monroe County GOP Chairman Bill Reilich. "If the guy's doing an adequate job, why change if the next guy doesn't have the potential to do much more?"
Ed Lurie, a Niskayuna resident who was a top political aide to Senate Republicans, contacted local Republican chairs for months but failed to gain traction. Chautauqua County Executive Greg Edwards, the GOP's 2010 nominee for lieutenant governor, also considered a run before concluding with allies that "my skills and talents were best suited as an elected official."
Erie County GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy was mentioned for a possible promotion, and he rode high after insurgent Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino defeated Rick Lazio in a gubernatorial primary. But the recent loss of Assemblywoman Jane Corwin in a special election for Congress has tarnished Langworthy, who was re-categorized from wunderkind to rookie in the eyes of many Republicans.
Which leaves Cox. Speaking to the Times Union last week, the incumbent ticked off his accomplishments: winning six congressional seats and re-taking the state Senate in the 2010 cycle as well as securing control of Erie, Nassau and Westchester counties in 2009.
"I find myself in a position where we can really rebuild the party, rebuild the institutions of the party," he said.
He has raised over $6 million for the party, and is assembling a finance committee chaired by Matt Mellon. The party postponed its annual dinner from June to Sept. 14, when ex-Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is scheduled to deliver the keynote address. Cox also said he is establishing a "chairman's advisory committee" to involve party stalwarts -- former candidates and officials, prominent lobbyists and campaign fundraisers -- who have no formal role in its committee structure. Cox suggested Bill Powers, a lobbyist and former state chairman, may be involved.
Cox has also presided over major staff changes at the committee, which now has a new political director and spokesperson. Tom Basile, who was unliked by some chairmen, departed earlier this summer. Former Assemblyman Tony Casale is now Cox's principal aide.
"The ultimate purpose of the party is to make New York a pro-growth state again," Cox said. To that end, he's been writing op/ed articles espousing party principals, and, "All of that had an impact into the policies of the way the 2010 campaign was structured. Every candidate, including Andrew Cuomo, was running as a fiscal conservative."
But Cox's critics offer a counter-narrative. The electorate swung to the right in 2010 regardless of the state GOP, and it was the efforts of individual candidates, not the state party. They say Cox's displeasure with Lazio, and his failed attempt to nominate Democratic Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy as the GOP standard-bearer, led to Paladino's victory.
His divisive campaign, which lacked substantive positions on key details and included statements judged harsh by racial minorities and gays, was a drag on other statewide candidates. Nationally, the electorate swung to the right, but all of New York's candidates lost.
"The Republican Party hasn't hit bottom yet in New York, and that's scary. We still have a little bit farther to go," said Brendan Quinn, a political consultant and former state party executive director.
Others are more charitable.
"He's done as well as anybody can do under the circumstances," said Bill Nojay, a talk-radio host from Rochester. Everyone interviewed for this article described Cox as generally affable and inoffensive, and noted he travels the state incessantly.
Just last week he was in Oswego, Syracuse, Livingston County and Binghamton. He's been to Franklin County a half dozen times in two years, its GOP chairman Jim Ellis said, earning his "whole-hearted support."
A vote for the chairman will take place sometime in September. In the meanwhile, Cox is focusing on a special election in Queens to replace Rep. Anthony Weiner as well as other races for the Assembly around the state. The April 24 presidential primary will not be a winner-take-all race, and Cox is excited to have the party's national icons coming.
"The Republican Party's back," he said.
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