ALBANY – Rob Astorino, the leading Republican considering a challenge to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo next year, said he came away from a meeting with GOP governors in Arizona this week convinced that the party is not writing off New York to the Democrats.
“Nobody has written off anything,” the Westchester County Executive told The Buffalo News on Friday after returning from several days in Scottsdale at a meeting of the Republican Governors Association, a politically potent group that helps finance GOP gubernatorial campaigns.
“If there is movement in the right direction and the potential to win, then … the resources would come in dramatic fashion,” Astorino said.
Astorino met with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is eyeing a 2016 White House run and was elected chairman of the governors group.
“It was a really good use of my time and to pick his brain and hear his thoughts,” said Astorino, who was recently re-elected leader of a county with a Democratic voter enrollment edge over Republicans.
He declined to discuss specifics of the meeting.
Astorino met with major campaign donors and a number of GOP governors, including Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, another potential 2016 presidential candidate.
“I had substantial discussions with political people as well as some very big donors. If this is something that I choose to do, it’s going to be because the backing and resources are there. I’m not going to jump into an empty pool,” he said of challenging Cuomo, who already has at least $28 million in the bank for 2014.
Challenging Cuomo has pros and cons, Astorino said.
“So I came away with more pros and cons,” he said of the Arizona meeting. Astorinio said he does not know when he will decide.
But Ed Cox, the state GOP chairman, who also attended the Arizona meeting, said he believes Astorino is leaning more toward running after his time in Scottsdale this week.
“It’s more realistic. You see people like Chris Christie who in 2009 no one gave him a chance, and he won. He got to talk to governors about what it was like, and it can’t help but have a tremendous impact on your decision-making,” Cox said of Astorino.
Astorino has slowly been emerging as a top prospect for the GOP to try to unseat Cuomo, whose popularity has slipped but is governor of a state with a 2-1 Democratic enrollment edge over Republicans.
A number of Republican governors who attended the Scottsdale meeting – including Christie, Jindal, Arizona’s Jan Brewer and Florida’s Rick Scott – either declined to comment on Astorino or did not return calls.
“There were the money individuals there in Arizona who can contribute to a campaign and understand the possibility of winning in New York State. Rob did very well with them,” Cox said.
He said Astorino brought his wife, who met with the spouses of other governors to hear about the demands of gubernatorial life.
“He was taken seriously, and the crowd I had around him were really interested to learn how he carried his message in a county that does not favor our message. He’s proven his ability to win twice in a tough region,” said Ari Storch, a Republican lobbyist in Washington who attended the meeting and met with Astorino.
Storch said Astorino met with fundraisers and donors who are major financial players in presidential races and have interests in helping elect more Republican governors.
The governors association can be an important source of hooking up donors with candidates and could also contribute on its own to campaigns. It has raised $23.5 million in the first half of 2013 and has $45 million on hand.
As of the latest public filing in July, though, Cuomo had amassed a campaign bankroll of more than $28 million.
Cox has been increasingly pushing Astorino, especially since his recent re-election.
“He was right in the middle of people who had run and won and, like himself, considering running next year, as well as the people who are potential backers of a winning gubernatorial race,” Cox said.
“I came away from Arizona with people saying I’ve got a real candidate there,” Cox said of Astorino.