Six years ago, Rob Astorino was the star of the Republican Party in New York. He had dethroned Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano in 2005, a harbinger of a Republican upswing in the New York suburban county governments.
In 2014, he lost the race for governor against Andrew Cuomo. Nevermind, he could always run again. But then 2017 happened. Astorino lost re-election to Democrat George Latimer.
Now he's running for the state Senate in the Hudson Valley in a position he has been in for 15 years: A challenger. He faces Democratic Sen. Peter Harckham, a first-term lawmaker who flipped the seat two years ago.
Astorino of 2020 sounds a lot like Astorino in 2014. He wants to make the state more competitive. He says he can do that, pointing to his governing in Democratic-heavy Westchester County.
But now it would be joining a state Senate where he could be in a Republican minority, the opposition to a governor he tried to unseat in 2014. And it would come amid a destabilizing global pandemic that has shattered the state's finances.
"The easiest part is flicking on the switch again," Astorino said of reopening. "It's rebuilding the state. Otherwise we're going to continue off the rails in a very bad direction and see the U-Hauls go out of the city, out of the suburbs, and down south, like to Florida."
Astorino bristles at any idea he's on par with President Donald Trump, who is expected to lose big in New York next month.
"There's Peter Harckham running a 'everything is about Donald Trump race' and I — does my hair look orange? I can't see," Astorino said. "But that's the entire race of Peter Harckham and probably every Democrat, which means they're running from their record. They don't want to talk about no-cash bail and attacking cops and to chase away business. I'm running towards my record."
Harckham, meanwhile, said he has a record to run on as well, including measures like making it easier for sexual abuse victims to file lawsuits and backing programs and policies for combatting substance abuse.
And he is hanging his hat on the bread-and-butter issues of constituent services.
"Half of my communities are Republican and half are Democratic and we've worked hard everywhere," Harckham said. "We work with veterans, we work with seniors. And we've brought everybody to cover. We cherish the diversity we have in the Hudson Valley and the president and our opponent seem to fear it."
Harckham is supportive of a temporary tax hike on the richest New Yorkers to help close a budget gap if federal aid doesn't come through for the state.
"If you have to, yeah, you've got to look at the wealthier New Yorkers for a limited amount of time to pay their fair share," he said. "Remember, they just got a massive tax cut from the federal government, over a trillion and a half dollars, so there's a margin there. But obviously taxing, cutting and borrowing is a last resort."
This race is also expected to be one of the costliest in the state. Astorino has so far raised more than $1 million for the campaign, transferring much of it from his former county executive account. Harckham has matched Asotorino in spending so far.
But Cuomo is getting involved. He will host a virtual fundraiser for Harckham on October 29, according to an invitation. Tickets range from $300 to $2,500.