The Perfect Enemy | Analysis: Why Langworthy v. Paladino is not the only battle in NY-23
August 17, 2022

Analysis: Why Langworthy v. Paladino is not the only battle in NY-23

Analysis: Why Langworthy v. Paladino is not the only battle in NY-23  Buffalo News

Read Time:9 Minute

WASHINGTON – If you thought the congressional battle between Carl Paladino and Nick Langworthy was really something, just wait until you hear about the battles behind the battle.

Longtime Republican allies, Paladino and Langworthy are now squaring off in the Aug. 23 primary for the party’s nomination for Congress in New York’s recently redrawn, ruby-red 23rd district, which stretches from suburban Buffalo all the way to Chemung County.

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But it’s not just a fight for a seat in Congress. 

“This is a proxy war for bigger things – bigger things for the state party, bigger things for the national party,” said one New York Republican leader, who, like several other GOP politicos who said pretty much the same thing, asked not to be quoted by name.

To be specific, the Paladino-Langworthy contest is also a generational clash for primacy in the New York State Republican Party between Langworthy, the state party chairman, and Rep. Elise Stefanik of Saratoga County, who chairs the House Republican Conference.

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Manhattan businessman Marc Cenedella on Friday dropped out of the race for Congress in New York’s 23rd district, meaning Republicans in southern and eastern Erie County and the Southern Tier will likely choose between Buffalo businessman Carl P. Paladino and State GOP Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy in an Aug. 23 primary.

It is also a battle between Stefanik and Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, a potential rival of Stefanik’s for a House leadership position in the next Congress.

And it’s a battle over the future of the Republican Party.

“It’s about the style of the party going forward,” that source, who is not allied with either candidate, said. “It’s about outsider versus insider. It’s about a lot of these other things more than it is Nick versus Carl.”

Langworthy v. Stefanik

Rep. Chris Jacobs didn’t just end his career in the gun-supporting modern GOP when he announced on May 27 that the Tops market massacre made him support an assault weapons ban.

The developing competition between two longtime allies in their efforts to succeed the suddenly-retiring Rep. Chris Jacobs, R-Orchard Park, presents a vexing dilemma for the former president

He also reignited a spat between Langworthy and Stefanik.

On the very day that Jacobs announced he would leave Congress at the end of his current term because party leaders rebelled at his newfound stance on gun control, and as Langworthy worked to build support for his race for Congress, Paladino announced that he was running. And that very afternoon, Stefanik – who, over four terms, has morphed from moderate to MAGA – endorsed Paladino.

So why would Stefanik, a rising star who’s not yet turned 40, hitch herself to Paladino, a septuagenarian candidate criticized as racist for comments that included, among other things, saying that then-First Lady Michelle Obama should “return to being a male” and go to Zimbabwe to live in a cave with a gorilla?

It’s complicated.

For one thing, Stefanik and Paladino – who once derided her as a “RINO,” or Republican in name only – have struck up a friendship in recent years, a source close to Stefanik said.

For another, that source said, Stefanik was livid that Langworthy would jump into the congressional race while continuing as state Republican chairman. In her view, Langworthy basically created an expensive competitive primary that will divert resources from other races – and thereby make it more difficult for Republicans to pick up other congressional seats or win the governorship.

Stefanik is by no means the only Republican thinking that.

“I’m concerned about the the amount of resources that are going to be expended in what should be a safe Republican seat,” said State Sen. George Borrello, a Republican from Silver Creek. “There are other competitive races that money could go to that would be competitive Democrat versus Republican, rather than Republican versus Republican.”

Republican sources have long said, too, that Stefanik was miffed that Langworthy never even approached her when looking for a candidate for governor this year. Sources close to Stefanik dispute that account, but there’s agreement on all sides that tension between Stefanik and Langworthy preceded the congressional primary.

Several sources said Stefanik and Langworthy are duking it out over who’s really the top Republican in the state, the party chairman or the most powerful New York Republican in Congress.

“When Elise has a perceived enemy, her response is always visceral – and Langworthy is that for her,” said a Republican operative in Washington who’s not allied with either Langworthy or Paladino.

In a sign of increasing national focus on the 23rd Congressional District, a top conservative figure in the House of Representatives on Tuesday announced key support for Nicholas A. Langworthy in his Republican primary contest against Carl P. Paladino.

Stefanik v. Banks

This being politics, Stefanik doesn’t have just one enemy. There’s also plenty of tension between Stefanik and Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, who heads a policy shop called the Republican Study Committee and who’s widely seen as a rising Republican leader in the House, just like Stefanik.

Republicans are expected to win back control of the House this fall, which would prompt movement in the Republican leadership ranks. And while Stefanik has not said she will try to rise in the ranks, many Republicans in Washington expect her to run for the party’s third-ranking position: majority whip.

Banks is seen as a possible whip candidate, too – which makes his endorsement of Langworthy interesting, to say the least.

“Nick is a true conservative who will be on the front lines fighting back against the radical policies of Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden,” Banks said.

The Paladino/Stefanik camp’s response to Banks’ endorsement of Langworthy? Banks isn’t enough of a Trumper.

As evidence, the Paladino/Stefanik camp sent The Buffalo News a March 2021 Politico story in which Banks said former Vice President Mike Pence, a fellow Hoosier, was “at the top of the list” of 2024 GOP presidential candidates. An aide also noted a passage in “This Will Not Pass,” a book by New York Times reporters Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns, that said Banks praised Trump in public but privately “had misgivings” about the ex-president.

All of that prompted Michael R. Caputo, the longtime GOP consultant and Paladino ally, to take on Banks.

“We see this all the time: people who are vocally pro-Trump when it matters to them but who are privately anti-Trump when it matters most,” Caputo said. “That’s Jim Banks.”

But Banks wasn’t having any of it. His spokesman, Buckley Carlson – son of Fox News host Tucker Carlson – quickly produced articles from Politico and the Daily Wire that were published this week and that show Banks praising Trump and backing a 2024 campaign by the ex-president. Carlson also forwarded a tweet noting that Banks and his allies plan on visiting Trump in August, as well as a statement from the congressman.

Noting that Langworthy served on Trump’s 2016 transition team, Banks said: “These ‘never Trumper’ accusations are dishonest and desperate paid-for political attacks from people who envy both Nick and my consistent records of support for President Trump. I endorsed Nick because we need more conservatives like him in the House to help push an America First agenda after 2022.”

In a sign that an intense and well-financed Republican primary for the 23rd District is about to begin, congressional hopeful Carl P. Paladino has committed $1.5 million of his own money to jump-start the campaign.

Insider v. Outsider

In a way, the difference between Langworthy and Paladino is the difference between Banks and another one of Paladino’s congressional endorsers: Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida.

Gaetz, a conservative who once donned a gas mask on the House floor while voting on a bill funding the government’s response to Covid-19, endorsed Paladino in a tweet on July 15.

“We need fighters like Carl Paladino in Congress,” said Gaetz, who has been tied to a federal sex trafficking investigation. “Carl will secure our border, restore our freedoms and re-energize the American economy.”

Langworthy promises that he’ll be a legislator, not a performance artist, in Congress. He’s billing himself as a Republican who gets things done, and plenty of his endorsers hammer home that message.

“Nick Langworthy is exactly who we need as our representative in Congress,” said Erie County Legislator Chris Greene. “Politics isn’t just about who can make the most noise, it’s about who can make the best change.”

In other words, the Langworthy-Paladino battle is an insider-outsider battle that might repeat itself in the 2024 presidential race, where “get-things-done” conservatives like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are expected to take on the ultimate outsider: Donald Trump.

But that’s two years away. For now, Langworthy has less than a month to overcome the name recognition advantage that Paladino has earned by running for governor in 2010 and, well, running his mouth ever since.

“Langworthy has played the inside game for a number of years and Paladino, I imagine, would start with a much higher name ID and and a lot of goodwill from Trump voters in the district,” said Dave Wasserman, House editor for Cook Political Reports. “And given his propensity to spend, it would seem difficult for Langworthy to overcome that.”

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