A few political stocking stuffers on this Sunday before Christmas:

• Until a few weeks ago, “I’m Getting Nuttin’ for Christmas” loomed as the official Republican carol following little success in recruiting a challenger for Gov. Andrew Cuomo next year. But the GOP is a little merrier after Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino all but declared his candidacy last week during a visit to Buffalo. Astorino attended Chairman Nick Langworthy’s annual holiday party and impressed about 250 GOP types, including other county chairmen, town chairmen, elected officials and potential donors.

“I came away from the day feeling positive about the direction of this and its potential for success,” Langworthy said of Astorino as he continues a-not-so-subtle boost of his candidacy. “I maintain that we can certainly unite this party around him.”

Buffalo’s Carl Paladino, the 2010 GOP candidate, also met with Astorino at Republican Headquarters on Wednesday – a key development in the campaign.

But Paladino may be more committed than ever to running again in 2014 – this time on the Conservative line. He said Thursday he will run unless Astorino promises to replace Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb. While Astorino could serve as statewide poster boy for everything on the Conservative agenda, Paladino’s focus on Skelos and Kolb now poses problems.

“Absolutely,” Paladino replied when asked if a commitment from Astorino to dump Skelos and Kolb remains a condition of his support. “It was and still is.”

But removing the Legislature’s top Republicans may prove too heavy a lift even for his most ardent supporters.

“He might be painting himself into a corner,” said one Paladino guy. “Nobody is going to do that.”

• If Congressman Brian Higgins’ belief in Santa Claus has lapsed in recent years, he ought to reconsider. He may even leave milk and cookies for former Ambassador Tony Gioia, who emerged this week as a right jolly old elf in the eyes of the South Buffalo Democrat.

That’s because Gioia and fellow Republican Patrick Lee broke away from their usual GOP mold to throw a big-time fundraiser for Higgins last week. How big? Sources close to the situation say the haul from the Buffalo History Museum event approaches $250,000 – a staggering amount for a congressional candidate around these parts.

It wasn’t without controversy. Paladino and a few supporters showed up to protest against RINOs (Republicans In Name Only), even if he has also sprinkled his own dollars on Democrats over the years. And a fair share of “harrumphs,” “ahems” and “grumbles” have drifted through GOP lairs in recent days over the Gioia/Lee affair. But the sun still rose in the east on the Tuesday morning after the event.

Now Republicans must deal with Higgins as an especially empowered incumbent, who will run for a fifth term despite rumors he would like to be president of SUNY Buffalo State. Those around him say he would not have allowed Gioia and Lee to absorb the barbs thrown their way if Buff State were in the plan.

Now the GOP must find someone willing to challenge an incumbent with high poll ratings, a huge enrollment advantage and even more money. That will require a joint effort involving not only Santa Claus but the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy, too.

In the meantime, about the best Republicans can muster will be monitoring the Higgins coffers for cash flowing toward the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee charged with electing more Democrats to the House. That would provide Republican grumblers with official “I told you so” ammo.

The Higgins folks say that won’t happen. Any Higgins money for the DCCC, they say, will stem from the congressman’s leadership PAC.

• The Politics Column will take a few days off to lick wounds from a long campaign season and gird for the gubernatorial election ahead. So we will decree a moratorium on political news for a while, and instead pass on wishes for a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all those nice enough to drop by this space every Sunday morning.