ALBANY – Voters won’t cast a ballot for governor for another 33 months, but the race for the Republican nomination is already taking shape.
Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, Columbia County, was the first potential candidate to take a concrete step toward running in 2018 when he opened a campaign fundraising account Monday.
His path to the GOP nomination isn’t likely to be uncontested, however.
Both of the party’s previous two candidates -- Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino – have said they’re considering another run.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday at Albany International Airport, Gibson sounded every bit the candidate, laying out the early stages of his policy platform and testing out criticism of Cuomo that could find its way to the campaign trail.
“We need to change the environment in Albany in so many ways,” Gibson said. “It is true: You’re never going to take this (political corruption) to zero. But we have to reform the entire political process, and I think it needs to start by leadership by example.”
A three-term congressman, Gibson represents a wide-reaching district that stretches from eastern Broome County to Poughkeepsie, stretching north to include Oneonta and parts of the Albany area.
He’s a retired Army officer who served in the Persian Gulf War, Kosovo and Iraq.
But Gibson, like previous Republican candidates, faces the challenge of running a viable statewide campaign in a state that has more than twice as many Democrats as Republicans. A Republican hasn’t won a statewide race since then-Gov. George Pataki won a third term in 2002.
And like Astorino and Paladino, Gibson is not well-known in New York City, a Democratic stronghold.
Astorino actually edged out Cuomo outside of New York City in 2014, collecting about 1.3 million votes to Cuomo’s 1.2 million. But Cuomo took home 77 percent of the nearly 1 million ballots cast in the city, fueling his 13-percentage-point win.
A two-term Westchester executive, Astorino has strongly hinted at a second run at governor, telling supporters at his 2014 concession speech that they have “planted a flag” and “will be back to advance it.”
Speaking to reporters earlier this month, Astorino pointed to his electoral history, noting he lost his first race for county executive in 2005 before he was successful four years later.
“The state is going in the wrong direction,” Astorino said. “I made that case in 2014, not enough people heard. But I made that case in 2005 in Westchester and not enough people heard until everything caught up with the times.”
Paladino, whose “Mad as Hell” campaign theme ushered him to a surprise win in the 2010 GOP primary, has spent recent weeks organizing Donald Trump supporters in New York.
But in December, Paladino – now a Buffalo school board member – told The Buffalo News he is “seriously considering” another gubernatorial run, pointing to Trump’s momentum in the presidential primaries.
“A guy like Trump, he speaks like I do, and he’s running away with this thing,” Paladino said.
Cuomo, meanwhile, already has $16 million in his campaign account, and has suggested he will run for a third term.
He’s shown little interest in engaging with his potential Republican foes. “That's their business," Cuomo said Tuesday. "Whatever they do, they do."
Cuomo’s allies, however, have already started attacking. New Yorkers Against Gun Violence issued a statement Tuesday knocking Gibson’s position on the SAFE Act, the 2013 gun-control laws Cuomo shepherded through the Legislature.
Gibson opposes the act.
“The idea that Chris Gibson claims to be a 'moderate' while vowing to repeal some of the strongest gun-safety laws in the nation is laughable,” the group’s statement reads.
Most top Republicans in New York have yet to back a specific candidate. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, R-Suffolk County, praised Gibson's entry into the field, but said Republicans will have a strong slate to choose from in 2018.
"He’s a good guy," Flanagan said of Gibson's announcement. "There’s a lot of good people out there. We’re going to have a packed field in 2018."