ADVERTISEMENT

Republicans Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney are concentrating these days on towns like Dubuque, Iowa, and Nashua, N.H., more than Buffalo.

But that doesn't mean local Republicans aren't beginning to choose sides.

The Buffalo News reported on Nov. 20 that Romney -- the former Massachusetts governor -- is rounding up solid support in Erie County. Former Ambassador Tony Gioia and businessman Mark Hamister are planning a major Romney fund-raising event for late January or early February, and Erie County GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy is expected to join the effort, too.

Romney is lining up some of the state's top party people, including Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, now New York's leading Republican. His cause is also aided in New York by Rob Cole, who was a top aide to former Gov. George Pataki.

GOP sources say Romney will soon roll out a long list of top Republicans from throughout the state, with former Rep. Guy Molinari of Staten Island as chairman.

But as much as any presidential field in history, these candidates seem to come and go on a weekly basis. Indeed, when The News story on local loyalties appeared on Nov. 20, there was little evidence of any Western New York support for anyone besides Romney and the tea party backing for Rep. Ron Paul of Texas -- who will always claim an extensive network anywhere in the country.

But since then the former speaker has roared to life -- a far cry from when he was ridiculed for his mid-campaign cruise of the Greek isles and subsequent loss of most of his staff. Now signs of life for Gingrich and his candidacy are surfacing in Erie County, too.

And just to be different, 2010 gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino is emerging as local leader of the Gingrich effort.

"I feel he is the only guy who can reach the right side of the electorate and get elected," Paladino said last week. "Mitt Romney isn't energizing anyone on the right."

Paladino knows something about energizing the right. When he ran in the Republican primary for governor just last year, he whipped the GOP's conservative element into a frenzy. He confronted a well-known moderate (sound familiar?) in Rick Lazio and easily dispatched him. And just because the Erie County numbers remain so fascinating, we occasionally remind everyone that Paladino won Erie County by a stunning 94 percent to 6 percent tally.

Indeed, the GOP appears to be in no mood for anything "moderate" as Romney fails to wrap it up and others of that ilk -- like former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman -- languish at the rear of the pack.

"I don't know why Republicans in the state of New York are going to back Romney. It's foolish," Paladino said. "We've all had enough of the old boys. It's time for them to go.

"Conservatives are the ones who vote," he added. "To beat Obama we're going to have to bring out every conservative voter we have. If it's Romney, people will just stay home."

Paladino has reached out to the Gingrich campaign and expects to have a role. He is persona non grata in some elements of the New York GOP, but he became a household word in 2010 and maintains extensive contacts throughout the tea party movement.

He is also not alone. Top sources say two officers of the Erie County Republican Party -- Secretary Donna McCartney Henry and Vice Chairman John Schmidt -- are also working for Gingrich locally.

For those who enjoy a little excitement in their GOP presidential politics, it appears Gingrich is providing it in Iowa, New Hampshire and the other early voting states. And Paladino -- as usual -- is providing it here.

email: rmccarthy@buffnews.com