State Sen. John DeFrancisco, a longtime central New York lawmaker, is exploring a run for governor in 2018.
DeFrancisco, R-Syracuse, said in an interview Friday that he began traveling around the state to attend Republican events and float his name as a potential gubernatorial candidate.
Last week, he attended the Saratoga County Republican Committee's summer picnic in Saratoga Springs. He has at least two stops planned this week in Erie and Oswego counties. His schedule for next week includes a stop in Livingston County.
DeFrancisco, who was elected to the state Senate in 1992 and now serves as the chamber's deputy majority leader, insists that he's made no formal decision about the 2018 election.
"I think it's just prudent to go around and see what level of support there is," he said. "And if there is, then I'll seriously consider it."
Whether DeFrancisco runs or not, he wants a strong Republican candidate for governor. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has indicated that he will seek a third term in 2018. He was first elected in 2010 and won re-election in 2014.
A Siena College poll released in July found Cuomo's favorability is at 52 percent. His job approval ratings took a hit, especially among downstate voters.
Overall, voters were split on whether Cuomo should return for a third term. And for Republicans like DeFrancisco that's an encouraging sign.
"I want to make sure that people that this is a serious race and it's winnable and whomever the (GOP) candidate is you gotta get behind and try to change the direction of the state," he said.
A major issue for DeFrancisco is New York's population loss, especially in upstate. The U.S. Census Bureau released an estimate at the end of 2016 that found the state's population declined for the first time in a decade.
New York lost 847,000 people to other states, according to the Census Bureau.
"That's pretty scary and people gotta think about those things and know that there's an alternative and hopefully, a good alternative candidate," DeFrancisco said.
Those that know DeFrancisco best view him as a credible challenger if he decides to enter the race for governor.
Cayuga County Republican Chairman Jeff Herrick hasn't endorsed a candidate for governor, but he lauded the Syracuse-area senator. DeFrancisco's district includes most of Auburn and a handful of towns in Cayuga County.
"(DeFrancisco) has no problem publicly criticizing narcissistic Governor Cuomo — and rightfully so," Herrick said. "Senator DeFrancisco understands more than anyone the dysfunction in Albany and is willing to make hard choices that would change the corrupted culture being run by Governor Cuomo."
DeFrancisco is one of several Republicans who have been mentioned as possible gubernatorial candidates. Harry Wilson, a corporate restructuring expert who ran for state comptroller in 2010, is exploring a run for governor. Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro is also considering whether to seek the GOP nomination.
Names from past races have been floated. Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who lost to Cuomo in 2014, hasn't ruled out running again in 2018. And Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino, Cuomo's opponent in 2010, announced in 2015 that he would explore another gubernatorial bid.
Republicans haven't won a statewide seat in New York since Gov. George Pataki was re-elected in 2002.
Pataki, a former state senator, was first elected in 1994. DeFrancisco said he was "instrumental" in helping Pataki in central New York. He sees similarities with the economic environment now compared to 23 years ago.
"Quite frankly, the rallying cry was not a great movement for George Pataki but the rallying cry was 'Anybody but Cuomo,'" DeFrancisco recalled. "I just think that's the same situation we're in now, plus the flight out of the state already is at a critical stage at this point. Unless things change as to what our policies are, it's gonna get even worse."