OLEAN, NY — During his more than ten years in New York politics, Carl Paladino had no problem making headlines, mostly for the wrong reasons.
There was a time when he spoke highly of Hitler. Or the occasion when he made grossly racist remarks about Michelle Obama. Not to mention his suggestion that kids have been brainwashed into accepting homosexuality.
However, the ensuing criticism has had little effect on Mr. Paladino, 75, a die-hard Republican and Buffalo-area developer, or on his political aspirations: After a volatile career as a member of the city’s school board, he effectively impeached — he has now launched a campaign to become the next duly elected representative of western New York’s 23rd congressional district.
His latest attempt at a comeback involves an ugly primary battle that has caused a deep rift in his own party. His opponent is Nick Langworthy, the president of the state’s Republican Party.
Mr. Langworthy, a former ally of Mr. Paladino, is trying to steer New York Republicans away from the grossest elements fueling former President Donald J. Trump’s MAGA following, saying the party has “gone too far” to to be undone by Mr Langworthy. Paladino’s antics.
Crucially, he says, Mr. Paladino could damage the campaign for Governor Lee M. Zeldin, the Long Island Republican considered by many to be the party’s best shot at the governor’s mansion in two decades. to win.
“Carl’s candidacy is an important reason why I have decided to do this,” said Mr. Langworthy, as he called Mr. Paladino called “a huge disadvantage” for the Republican ticket in 2022. “We have the best chance of winning in 20 years, and the three-ring circus he brings to the table, with the way he handles things and himself , will basically be used against any candidate in the state.
Despite his general candor, Mr. Paladino has conducted a largely restrained campaign, preferring to attack Mr. Langworthy via press releases and interviews at reliable Trumpian outlets such as Steve Bannon’s “War Room,” where he recently vowed not to just impeach President Biden —” on Day 1″ – but also to overthrow US Attorney General, Merrick Garland.
One of the talking points of his campaign – “You Know Me” – seems to be aimed at maximizing his brand awareness, which he says gives him an undeniable advantage as a candidate and potential congressman.
More coverage of the 2022 midterm elections
“I have a proven track record as a conservative fighter, who doesn’t back down,” Mr Paladino said in a statement, adding that he was an early supporter of Mr Trump. “The people here know me and trust me.”
Mr. Paladino also has a clear financial advantage, having lent his campaign $1.5 million — nearly his entire war coffers, according to federal disclosure reports. Mr. Langworthy has spent little of the $307,000 raised on campaign donations, most of it on individual contributions.
Still, Mr. Langworthy that his rival’s history of fouls will outweigh his money.
“People know you,” Mr. Langworthy said. “It doesn’t mean people like you.”
Mr. Paladino’s fame – or notoriety – and his ability to run campaigns aren’t the only obstacles Mr. Langworthy faces. Representative Elise Stefanik, the staunch Trump supporter who is the 3rd Republican in the House of Representatives, has supported Mr Paladino, as has other Trump world notables such as Florida Representative Matt Gaetzwhich has had its own share of controversy.
Ms. Stefanik, in particular, has lobbied ferociously Trump-esque bon mots back and forth with Mr. Langworthy and is expected to campaign for Mr. Paladino in the district ahead of the Aug. 23 primaries.
Given Mr Paladino’s track record with racist and sexist remarks, Ms Stefanik’s endorsement raised some eyebrows, though she cast it as a testament to his career as a business leader.
How Times reporters cover politics.
We rely on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times employees may vote, they may not support or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money to, or raising money for, a political candidate or election cause.
“Carl has devoted his entire career to creating thousands of jobs in western New York and the southern stratum, and has been a strong advocate for this community,” Ms Stefanik said in a statement. “I am proud to support Carl, who is a conservative fighter.”
Mr. Langworthy and Mr. Paladino run to represent a very conservative, sprawling district stretching from the suburbs of Buffalo to east of Binghamton. Max Della Pia is the anointed Democratic candidate.
The race of the two Republicans seems very personal: they had a long friendship, each as political celebrities in the Buffalo area. Their relationship was deepened by their close ties to Mr Trump, for whom both men unsuccessfully lobbied to become governor in 2014.
Indeed, on Monday, after FBI agents raided Mr. Trump’s estate in Mar-a-Lago, both men rushed to make statements condemning the agency’s actions, with Mr. Langworthy saying that Mr. Biden “turned America into a banana republic,” while Mr. Paladino said the raid was “politically motivated and horrifying”.
“If elected to Congress, I will work to save this nation from these disordered government agencies that are attacking our civil rights,” said Mr. Paladino.
Both men announced their candidacy shortly after Representative Chris Jacobs – a scion of a powerful Buffalo family – decided not to run for another term and abandoned his reelection efforts after announcing his support for a series of gun control measures in the wake of a May 14 massacre in a Buffalo supermarket.
Mr. Jacobs’s stance caused backlash among Republican leaders, including Mr. Langworthy, who began courting voters and supporters in the district even before Mr. Jacobs formally announced his intention to leave politics.
Michael Caputo, a former Trump administration official who led Mr. Paladino’s 2010 campaign for governor and is friends with all three men, said both candidates had notified Mr. Trump of their decision to take Mr. to find Jacobs. They all hoped to get Mr Trump’s approval, but so far he has refused both. But Mr. Caputo says Mr. Trump has been troubled by the Langworthy camp’s claims that the former president favors their candidate.
Langworthy’s campaign, however, rejected this idea, saying he “never suggested that the president backed him for Congress because he has far too much respect for him to do so.”
Mr Paladino declined to be interviewed and agreed to provide only written answers to a reporter’s questions. In it, he argued that it is Mr Langworthy who is the problematic candidate, “who lets his ego get in the way of his day job as chairman of the state party.”
“Nick is divisive and distracted from his duty to elect a Republican governor, and Republican candidates up and down on the ballot,” wrote Mr. Paladino.
That argument has found some support from the state party, including Lawrence A. Garvey, the chairman of the Rockland County Republican Party. He said he was outraged by Mr Langworthy’s decision and said that, as party chairman, his “first job is to get people elected”.
“You cannot distinguish between what he does for the party and what he does for his race,” said Mr. Garvey. “He would have to cross the state now, he would have to storm to get Lee Zeldin elected.”
Mr Langworthy, 41, ignores that argument – “It’s absolute nonsense,” he said – and said he and the state party can multitask. To be sure, Mr. Langworthy ran a more traditional campaign, pushing his limits at various events in western New York and the Southern Tier, collecting a list of local endorsements, including from a variety of county-level officials who know him as head of state.
“Nick Langworthy is my friend and was there for me when I first ran into the office,” said Frank Todaro, an Erie County lawmaker. “His support and guidance meant a lot, and I am proud to support him for Congress.”
The race has had few solid polls, although Mr Paladino has consistently positioned himself as a frontrunner, saying he has “no serious challenger”.
But in some places voters are intrigued by the idea of Mr. Langworthy. During a July discussion he attended in the Cattaraugus County town of Olean, Cathy Kelley, 69, said she liked the state party chairman’s support of the Second Amendment, saying she felt he was “someone who would bat for us.”
As for Mr Paladino, Ms Kelley – a housewife from Belfast, NY – said she didn’t like him, but she seemed concerned about his capacity for inflammatory remarks.
“Carl Paladino has a very long political history,” Ms Kelley said. “And I think, you know, if you want to go with someone who’s totally rogue, maybe Carl would be the guy. But I’m not in favor.”