Donald Trump revealed Thursday just how serious he is about running for governor this year – $30 million to $50 million serious.
As he announced a Jan. 31 trip to Buffalo, his first upstate exploration of a run against Democratic incumbent Andrew M. Cuomo, the Manhattan real estate mogul told The Buffalo News he can more than match the $33 million that the governor’s campaign reported on hand this week.
In addition, Trump’s supporters tout his worldwide name recognition while making his case to become this year’s GOP standard bearer. And while Trump said he likes and respects other potential candidates, such as Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, he believes that he brings more to a statewide campaign.
“I can put up $200 million if I want,” Trump said in a telephone interview from Las Vegas.
Trump announced Thursday his Jan. 31 trip to the Erie County Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Leadership Awards Reception in Salvatore’s Italian Gardens, Lancaster. He said he will be on hand for “a couple of hours” to support Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy’s fundraiser. Langworthy has not endorsed Trump or Astorino, who kicked off his own upstate exploratory campaign with a December trip to Buffalo.
“I have a lot of respect for Buffalo, and a lot of respect for Nick,” Trump said.
And he characterized Cuomo’s many trips and state money for economic development in Western New York as efforts to “buy” votes in an area the governor lost in 2010.
“If I ran, it’s a race that absolutely could be won,” Trump said. “When I started ‘The Apprentice’ – 10 years ago now – everybody said no. It became the No. 1 show on television.”
While many New York Republicans and Democrats still question whether Trump will enter the race, he took new and significant steps Thursday to dispel doubts. By venturing beyond his Manhattan home turf to upstate’s largest city, Trump is sending his strongest signals yet, some political observers of statewide politics said.
“Something is happening for Donald Trump to come to Buffalo,” said former Republican Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds of Clarence. “That tells me there is some sort of interest here in 2014. You can’t argue with the fact that there is at least January interest about what will happen in November.”
Trump is also now courting Erie County – a major Democratic stronghold that can swing toward the GOP and is considered key to statewide hopes for a Republican. He also ramped up his criticism of State Republican Chairman Edward F. Cox, who is viewed as a major Astorino supporter. Trump on Thursday labeled Cox “highly unsophisticated and poorly tested.”
“You’ve got a chairman who has never won a race; he just doesn’t get it,” Trump said. “Actually, he doesn’t understand politics.”
He also said Cox this week sent a “shockingly weak letter” to GOP leaders around the state questioning Trump‘s efforts.
“Nobody can read him,” he said of Cox. “I don’t think he can read himself.”
Cox, meanwhile, asserted in Buffalo last week that Astorino is running and has challenged Trump to declare his candidacy or step aside.
“If Donald Trump is serious about running for governor, he should declare his candidacy, run and go throughout the process,” Cox said last week.
The chairman Thursday noted that Trump is at least taking initial steps toward running.
“We’re happy that Mr. Trump is starting to travel around the state to meet with Republicans,” Cox said.
Trump began seriously considering a challenge to Cuomo after several Republicans from across the state – including Assemblyman David J. DiPietro and political strategist Michael R. Caputo, both of East Aurora – met with him in December in his Manhattan office.
Trump said Thursday his subsequent meetings with party chairmen and leaders from across the state have convinced him they would support his candidacy.
He also said Cuomo’s efforts in the upstate region are following the wrong path.
“I know many people up there, and they say he’s done nothing for three years,” he said. “Now all of a sudden he’s up there?”
Cuomo’s office did not respond to a request to comment.
Langworthy, meanwhile, has emphasized throughout the early stages of the campaign that he will not endorse without an official declaration.
“If he declares his candidacy,” Langworthy said of Trump, “it’s certainly a game-changer, providing a national race with two huge names going for the governorship.”
He said he expects Trump to make up his mind sometime in February.
Astorino spokeswoman Jessica Proud was unavailable to comment.
Buffalo’s Carl P. Paladino, the 2010 Republican candidate for governor, has also strongly hinted at running in 2014 on the Conservative line if the GOP fails to field a well-known and well-financed candidate. He said he likes Astorino and has described Trump as an “awesome candidate,” but has also made it clear that anyone gaining his support must echo his call to replace Senate Republican Leader Dean G. Skelos, of Nassau County, and Assembly Minority Leader Brian M. Kolb, R-Canandaigua, whom he considers in league with Cuomo.
Paladino was unavailable to comment Thursday on whether he will hold Trump to the same requirement.