PLATTSBURGH — Most, but not all, North Country Republican leaders will support Donald Trump now that he has gained the clear path as the party's presidential candidate.
Republican contenders Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and former Ohio Gov. John Kasich suddenly dropped out of the race, and GOP officials in Clinton and Franklin counties say their members will now likely support Trump, as will Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-Willsboro).
Franklin County Republican Party Chairman Ray Scollin would like to see the GOP get solidly behind Trump for the national election.
"We’re hoping the Republican Party can unify behind the candidate because we are convinced that Hillary Clinton is the totally wrong direction for the country," he said.
The former secretary of state is increasing her lead over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for the Democratic Party nomination.
But another area Republican leader offers a different take on the billionaire candidate.
Essex County Republican Party Chairman Shaun Gillilland, who is also Willsboro town supervisor, told the Press-Republican he is not going to support Trump for president.
"I’ve been public about how I feel," Gillilland said. "I think he’s (Trump) a disaster for our party. You don’t see any Trump signs around, and there’s a good reason for it."
Gillilland said he is not advocating that people vote for Trump.
"Maybe I’m being disloyal, but I see this as a moving disaster," he continued.
"I hope it doesn’t affect other (Republican) candidates. That’s what I’m fearful of.
"I’m trying to get people excited about the political process, and this makes it worse."
Scollin pointed out that Trump did well in the region.
"Franklin County supported Donald Trump in the primary, and so did the NY 21 (Congressional District), and so did the state of New York, except for one congressional district, so I think the grassroots Republicans have spoken," Scollin said.
"Of course, we are an arm of them, so if Donald Trump is the chosen candidate for New York state, then that’s who we support."
Trump made a campaign stop in Plattsburgh last month before the New York primary, but Scollin said there is more to the candidate beyond his headline-grabbing speeches.
"Like many other Republicans, you spend time not only listening to the speeches that have been going on but going to his website and looking at his policy statements," he said.
"His policy statement has changed from what it once was to one more supportive of Second Amendment (gun ownership) rights, something that the Republicans in the North Country feel very strongly about."
Scollin said Trump connects with voters in his county in other ways, too.
"Second Amendment rights and trade agreements can make a difference," he said.
The party hopes Stefanik (R-Willsboro) and U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) "will work with (Trump) to make sure we have good cross-border trade continuing in Canada because that’s economically important to the North Country," Scollin said.
Clinton County Republican Party Chairman Donald McBrayer said he will leave it up to the party's Executive Committee to decide whether they want to get behind Trump, but he thinks they will.
"We will get together and talk about it, but I suspect they will endorse him and get behind the nominee," McBrayer said.
"We may not all agree with everything he says, but if he is the nominee, we probably will support him."
McBrayer said Trump seemed to tap into a very frustrated right-wing portion of the party, even though they did not always agree with him, either.
"I'm not sure the Tea Party people wanted him. They probably would have rather seen a Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio, and the centrist part of the party didn't want him either," McBrayer said.
"But he did ride in on the right-wing message."
Stefanik, a Republican from Willsboro who represents the 21st District, said she would support Trump, but would not offer any further thoughts.
"Like my Democratic opponent, I will support my party’s nominee in the fall," Stefanik said in a statement to the Press-Republican.
"My primary focus is serving my constituents to the best of my ability, and I'm proud to have spent my first term in Congress working to deliver on my campaign promise to bring news ideas and a new generation of leadership to Washington."
Stefanik is set to face Democrat Mike Derrick of Peru and Green Party candidate Matt Funiciello of Glens Falls in this year's election.
Her camp referred to a video of Derrick saying at a Saranac Meet and Greet on March 25 that he would support his party's nomination.
His campaign manager, Drew Prestridge, confirmed that Derrick will support the Democratic nominee.
"Mike wants to see the primary process play out. Voters deserve it. He'll have no hesitation supporting either candidate," Prestridge said.
"Either a President Sanders or President Clinton will deliver positive results for the North Country, in dramatic contrast to Donald Trump, who Elise Stefanik has committed to support."
Prestridge said that Derrick, a retired U.S. Army colonel, has spent his entire life fighting for and protecting American values, while Trump’s reckless behavior has endangered and disrespected those American values.
All Stefanik has said is that she looks forward to supporting him as the nominee, Prestridge points out.
"She owes voters in this district an explanation of where she agrees with Trump and where she differs, assuming she differs with him on anything," Prestridge said.
"What’s clear is that a Trump/Stefanik ticket certainly will not create jobs here at home, will make America less safe, work against women's rights and equality and damage our environment and North Country way of life."
READY FOR CHANGE
Funiciello was pleased with the Trump win, but for other reasons.
"Donald Trump winning nationally, and his and Sanders's big primary wins here in CD21, is a clear indication that Americans are ready for the kind of real change that will only come from outside the two-party system," Funiciello said.
"This can only mean good things for all working-class Green Party campaigns."
On the way to gaining the Republican nomination, Trump won big in the New York primary on April 19.
He gained 52.72 percent of the vote in the 21st Congressional District, which helped him net all three delegates from the district.
The turnout in the district was 58,447 total votes; Trump received 30,813. He required at least 29,224 in order to win a majority of the vote.
SUNY Plattsburgh political science professor Dr. Harvey Schantz said Trump's visit to Plattsburgh on April 15 appears to have paid dividends.
"If Trump had 1,590 fewer supporters turn out in the North Country district, Trump would have lost a pledged delegate to Kasich," Schantz said.
"Seen in this light, Trump's strategy to campaign personally in Plattsburgh and in other North Country locations was brilliant.
"And more than brilliant, it showed a grim determination, all the while in good spirits, to win the party nomination," Schantz said.
"Unlike other candidates, he came a-courting, and voters like to be begged for their vote."
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