BUFFALO, N.Y. — Nearly a week ago, the then-prohibitive favorite to win election in New York's 23rd Congressional District, Republican Chris Jacobs, turned the race on its head when he announced he would vote for a federal ban on guns like AR-15 rifles.
Jacobs acknowledged at the time his statements could complicate his election bid and Erie County Conservative Party Chairman Ralph Lorigo says they absolutely did.
"I started getting calls Friday afternoon and they still haven't stopped," Lorigo said. "So I've heard from my people repeatedly. It's not a stance that we can support so he cannot be the person that we want to send to Congress."
Sources said Jacobs' campaign has been doing internal polling to gauge his chances in the conservative district that includes southern Erie County and the Southern Tier. He has already qualified for the ballot but has until Friday to decline the nomination if he chooses, and Lorigo says he's encouraged him to do so.
Jacobs was in Texas this week visiting the southern border. His campaign did not immediately respond to Spectrum News 1’s inquiries about his plans.
"That is not what we believe the solution to be and it's certainly totally wrong for his district. It's totally wrong," Lorigo said. "This is the most Republican district in this state and for him to do that, it's, in my opinion, political suicide."
Lorigo said he's spoken with a number of other candidates potentially interested in running, but his preference is New York State Republican Chair Nick Langworthy. He said Langworthy has experience and political ideology that fits the district and infrastructure to collect the required number of signatures by the June 10 deadline for new candidates.
"I think he is perfect for the situation," Lorigo said. "I think he can end the crisis. I think he can stop the division. I think if Nick takes on this role a lot of the potential people who might get into a primary would step aside."
Tompkins County Republican Chair Mike Sigler, who was running for NY-22 prior to a court decision changing the Congressional district maps, has submitted his intent to run for NY-23. He said he's watching Jacobs and Langworthy closely and could reevaluate that decision Friday.
Meanwhile, Fredonia-based businessman Marc Cenedella said he plans to continue to run, and expects to easily exceed the signature requirement to get on the ballot. He said Jacobs' gun stance was just the latest example of a politician out of touch with the voter base.
As for Langworthy, Cenedella questioned his track record in picking congressional candidates, including Jacobs and his predecessor Chris Collins, who resigned under indictment for insider trading. He also said Langworthy hasn't finished his job as chairman to get a Republican in the governor's office.
GOP gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino echoed that concern during an interview Thursday.
"I'm surprised that Nick Langworthy is jumping in," Astorino said. "I thought he was state chairman. He should be worried electing a governor, which was his number one priority, but that is what it is."
Lorigo said he's not concerned about Langworthy's involvement in the campaign for endorsed GOP gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin. He said he believes the chair would be able to win the congressional district rather easily and keep most of his focus on the race for governor this year.
Langworthy has not confirmed publicly whether he's actually "jumping in." Party members are circulating petitions with his name on them.
If Langworthy chooses not to run, he could decline the nomination after those petitions are submitted. A source said even if Jacobs withdraws, the party would prefer to collect the required petitions in the new district.
It would allow the GOP to avoid the alternative of having party chairs from the previously drawn and court-invalidated NY-24, where Jacobs collected his signatures, choose the replacement.
That district included Niagara County and not the Southern Tier.