Oh, to thrive in politics like Sen. Mark Grisanti of Buffalo.
That's how political dreamers view the Democrat-turned-Republican these days as he continues to defy the most daunting of odds.
And why not? In 2010, Grisanti switched to the GOP and took on Democratic incumbent Antoine Thompson. He barely squeaked by, and many observers still contend the controversial Thompson lost that contest more than Grisanti won. But for crying out loud, he won – in a 5-to-1 Democratic district.
Fast forward to 2012, when Senate Democrats smelled blood in Western New York. Sen. Mike Gianaris of Queens, who heads campaign efforts for Senate Dems, proclaimed the Grisanti seat the top priority in all of New York. A Democratic district should have a Democratic senator, Gianaris said.
But Erie County Democrats, being who they are, couldn't help themselves. They staged a lively primary that turned the state's top Democratic priority into a big mess, and Republican Grisanti skipped into re-election.
But for all the envy some political observers hold for Grisanti, the senator still faces a problem – the next election. In fact, Grisanti will always face a problem as long as he's a Republican in a Democratic district.
That's why the Politics Column has learned some in Grisanti's inner circle are urging him to use this high-flying time to contemplate his future. Sources close to the situation say advisers like Sen. George Maziarz of Newfane and former Niagara County GOP Chairman Henry Wojtaszek continue to urge Grisanti to stick with the Republicans. They and others reason that Grisanti has done it before, and can do it again.
But this year, the senator finds himself in a particular political pickle on issues like hiking the minimum wage, which Republican colleagues will urge him to oppose. But the district remains overwhelmingly Democratic, and it will loom as a tough choice for Grisanti.
Ditto for Gov. Andrew Cuomo's upcoming proposal to expand abortion rights in New York. Most Republican senators will most likely oppose it, raising another dilemma in a Democratic district (though Grisanti knows Buffalo remains a Catholic town, and legislative leaders traditionally allow their troops to vote their conscience on such issues).
Some are asking Grisanti why he would stick with the GOP when the most visible and vocal Republican in Western New York – 2010 gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino – beats him up every chance he gets. And so far, nobody in the local Republican establishment has stood up to Paladino on that score.
All of this leads others in Grisanti's inner circle to propose another way. According to several sources, former County Executive Joel Giambra – possibly the most influential of all Grisanti advisers – is counseling the senator to join a minor party like Independence.
The theory here, they say, is that Grisanti has carved out his own popular niche while proving he's a survivor. Democrats and Republicans would field their own candidates in future elections, allowing him to split the defense and run down the middle.
And once in Albany, Grisanti could caucus with whichever party he wants. That means Democrats, Republicans or – interestingly – the Independent Democratic Caucus that shares power with the Senate GOP.
There are other advantages. Grisanti could set himself up as the de facto local leader of the Independence Party, which has no Erie County structure and has lost much of its statewide influence in recent years.
Then, of course, there's always the possibility that former Democrat Grisanti could return home to the Dems. His recent votes favoring same-sex marriage and stricter gun control would seem welcome in the Democratic caucus, though another switcheroo would forever brand him with the label of Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Democrat, and all it brings.
Nothing from any of our sources says this will happen. Grisanti isn't talking. But it's under discussion, and fun to contemplate on a cold winter morning almost nine months before Election Day.