ALBANY — The Republican Party hasn’t won a statewide election in New York since 2002, and even the party’s biggest boosters seem well aware of the troubles they face in staving off a third term for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo this fall.
But the contest gained some intrigue on Tuesday with the entry of John A. DeFrancisco, a state senator, into the thin Republican field, introducing a hard-punching, wisecracking and little-to-lose conservative into what has been a decidedly sleepy election cycle.
Mr. DeFrancisco, 71, formally announced his candidacy on Tuesday afternoon, presenting it as a crusade to return the state to past prosperity.
“As somebody said, ‘It’s the economy, stupid,’” Mr. DeFrancisco said, quoting a famous Bill Clinton maxim, at the campaign kickoff at a hotel just outside of his hometown, Syracuse. “We need to turn it around. And with the right leadership, we can.”
Where the spirit is willing, of course, the electorate may be weak. With Democrats holding more than a 2-to-1 advantage in voter registration, New York is a profoundly blue state; Democrats have dominated in statewide races since the former Gov. George Pataki, a Republican, won an election, despite scandals engulfing some of Mr. Cuomo’s predecessors.
Beyond the demographic challenges, Republicans are also dealing with an incumbent governor who is approaching the race with a campaign war chest of some $30 million, and a popularity rating that has seemingly recovered from a subway-related swoon last summer.
Such factors apparently scared off several possible Republican candidates last year, including two who have been past victims of the long Democratic winning streak: Rob Astorino, the former Westchester County executive who lost to Mr. Cuomo in 2014, and Harry Wilson, a wealthy turnaround expert, who was beaten in a run for comptroller in 2010 by Thomas DiNapoli.
Add to that a particularly treacherous terrain for Republicans in the age of Donald Trump, particularly in New York where polls show more than 60 percent of voters in the president’s home state view his presidency unfavorably.
The roster of declared candidates for the Republican nomination, to be determined late spring, thus far has been lesser known, including Brian Kolb, the Republican minority leader in the Democrat-dominated Assembly, and Joel Giambra, the former Erie County executive.
And while Mr. DeFrancisco is hardly a Kardashian, the senator has been a steady, and often spiky, presence in Albany for a quarter-century, often jabbing Democrats, and some members of his own party, as well as keeping up a lively banter on the Senate floor.
Mr. DeFrancisco has indicated he will give up his Senate seat, and his departure gives Democrats another district to target as they try to secure a bulletproof majority in that chamber. (Republicans currently hold power by dint of an arrangement with nine Democrats, including the renegade Independent Democratic Conference.)
Republicans, predictably, reject that notion.
“We are absolutely confident that we will win the 50th District Senate seat and grow our majority across the state in November,” said Scott Reif, a spokesman for the Republican Senate majority.
To win statewide, however, Republican strategists estimate that their candidates need to garner at least 30 percent of the vote in New York City, and reaching that number may be a challenge for anyone, let alone a candidate without ample financial backing.
“It really comes down to money: Who has the ability to pay for New York City broadcast television?” said William F. B. O’Reilly, a Republican consultant in New York. “Without it, it would be very difficult to reach that number in the five boroughs.”
While it is a fraction of the governor’s stockpile, Mr. DeFrancisco has nearly $1.5 million in two separate campaign accounts, according to Board of Election records.
No matter the nominee, it seems that the 2018 race will be sharply divided between downstate — where the bulk of the voters, and millions of Democrats live — and upstate, which has been losing population for years, but continues to maintain deep red pockets of political conservatives. Mr. Kolb hails from outside Rochester; Mr. Giambra is from the Buffalo area.
Mr. Cuomo, who is said to harbor national political ambitions though he denies such plans, has made a point of repeatedly saying that he has turned around the upstate economy, an assertion that economists have questioned.
Mr. DeFrancisco seems likely to also hammer the governor on corruption; he mentioned the trial of a top former Cuomo aide, Joseph Percoco, in his opening speech. And Democrats in the state party were already firing back, calling Mr. Kolb and Mr. DeFrancisco “Trump Mini-Mes,” and saying that both men were “anti-choice, anti-woman, anti-L.G.B.T.Q., anti-labor, anti-immigrant, anti-gun safety, anti-environment.”
Early response to the senator’s candidacy from the right was supportive. Edward F. Cox, the Republican Party chairman, welcomed Mr. DeFrancisco’s candidacy, calling him “a leader and fiscal expert.” Mike Long, the chairman of the Conservative Party, which held its annual conference in Albany this week, said he, too, was pleased by Mr. DeFrancisco’s announcement, saying that he and Mr. Kolb would each help energize the campaign strategy of focusing on the disparity between Mr. Cuomo’s rhetoric and the reality in many cities in the state’s central and western regions.
“The only growing industry in the state,” Mr. Long said, “are the moving vans.”
And as for the governor’s advantages at this point, Mr. DeFrancisco was typically blunt in remarks on Monday on the Senate floor.
“O.K., maybe I can’t raise that kind of money, but does that mean that Andrew Cuomo has the job for life? That because it’s a tough go, that no one should run against them? Because it’s a fait accompli?” he said. “I don’t believe that.”
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