ALBANY – More than three dozen Republican legislators and GOP county leaders from around the state are set to converge this morning in a 25th-floor conference room in Manhattan to try to persuade developer Donald Trump to challenge Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in this year’s gubernatorial race.
The meeting is intended to provide Trump with a political show of force, demonstrating that he has support to run within the state GOP. It comes as Trump nears a decision, helped by advisers who have spent the past month compiling policy and political intelligence for him for a possible challenge to Cuomo.
Republican Party leaders, including some from Erie County, representing more than 50 percent of the weighted vote for this year’s GOP nominating convention will be at the meeting.
Though many Republican leaders believe a Trump candidacy is a long shot, meeting organizers say the Trump team has been in daily talks the past month with GOP officials about everything from the state’s Common Core education program to getting names of local party insiders in Western New York.
“The goal is to demonstrate to Mr. Trump that he is the only New York Republican they believe is capable of defeating Cuomo in the upcoming gubernatorial race,” said Michael Cohen, an executive vice president and special counsel to Trump.
Cohen called this morning’s meeting at Trump Tower “very important” in the decision-making process for Trump, who Republicans say has gone from a “no” to a “maybe” to now seriously considering a run against Cuomo.
“The fact that more than 50 percent of the weighted Republican Party vote will be in attendance is a testimony to their interest in Mr. Trump and their belief that he would defeat Cuomo,” Cohen added.
State GOP Chairman Ed Cox has been promoting Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino; Cox, who will not attend today’s meeting, declined to comment Thursday.
Several Republicans described Astorino as a solid candidate but without the deep pockets and name recognition to take on Cuomo and his more than $30 million campaign bankroll.
Today’s meeting will follow an initial gathering in early December with Trump, a session that was to last about 10 minutes but ran more than two hours.
“We’ve been in contact continually with him through his staff. He’s taking it seriously. He’s asking the right questions,” said Assemblyman David DiPietro, an Erie County Republican and one of five elected officials who met with Trump in December and put together today’s session.
“I don’t know if Mr. Trump is going to do it, but the fact is he called the second meeting,” DiPietro said.
Skeptics wonder how Trump would put aside his real estate and entertainment businesses to run, while some GOP leaders have privately questioned whether he is engaged with the GOP lawmakers and county officials as some sort of publicity endeavor.
But DiPietro said the kind of information being sought by the Trump camp in recent weeks is too detailed and constant to be considered a publicity stunt. Moreover, he said most county GOP leaders have agreed to sit tight and not embrace Astorino – who has yet to announce his intentions – until Trump makes up his mind.
“We’ve got some pretty powerful county chairmen who want to help Mr. Trump if he wants to run. The nomination is available to him,” DiPietro said.
While last month’s meeting was a mix of meet-and-greet and information exchanging, DiPietro said today’s meeting is meant to show Trump that some GOP leaders are genuine in their desire for him to run.
Rochester-area Assemblyman Bill Nojay, who with DiPietro last summer began forming the “draft Trump” campaign, said Thursday that elected officials and county leaders from Erie County to Nassau County will be at today’s session.
“I don’t speak for Mr. Trump, but he has spent a lot of time talking about this, thinking about it, speaking with people he trusts; and that process has been accompanied by a groundswell of support from across the state,” Nojay said. He said Trump already has been discussing ideas for job creation and development in hard-hit areas of the state.
Nojay called the meeting “critical to show Mr. Trump that the New York Republican Party will back him enthusiastically if he declares his candidacy. ... When he sees these people in the room, it’s going to validate what we’ve been telling him the past couple of weeks.”
DiPietro said Trump would bring more than just money and name recognition to a race against Cuomo, whose numbers have fallen in polls in the past year but who still retains strong re-election numbers and a healthy campaign war chest.
“He’s not a politician,” DiPietro said of Trump. “I think that’s a big plus for him.”