Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro hasn't formally launched his campaign for governor, but he is the clear front-runner for the Republican nomination. 

Molinaro rolled out endorsements Wednesday from eight Republican county chairs, including Dutchess GOP Chairman Michael McCormack and Suffolk County GOP Chairman John Jay LaValle. 

One of the chairs who supports Molinaro is Rodney Strange, who leads the Chemung County Republican Committee. Strange initially supported state Sen. John DeFrancisco for governor. But he flipped from DeFrancisco, R-DeWitt, to Molinaro. 

"I have long known that Marc Molinaro would be the right person to be our governor," Strange said. "He will return honor, respect and dignity to the governor's office and I am proud to endorse him." 

Molinaro was also endorsed by Monroe County Republican Chairman Bill Reilich. They are former state Assembly colleagues. Reilich previously endorsed Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb for governor. But after Kolb exited the race in February, he didn't throw his support behind either DeFrancisco or attorney Joe Holland, another declared GOP candidate. 

With Molinaro's entry, Reilich found another candidate to endorse.

"Time and again, Marc Molinaro has stood up for the people of New York and I'm excited to support his bid to be our next governor," he said. "When we served in the New York State Assembly together we worked together on countless bills to advance our conservative principles and always stand up for the taxpayers of our great state. Marc will be an excellent governor and the right choice to lead New York state." 

Molinaro now has the support of chairs whose counties represent 29.37 percent of the weighted vote. He needs more than 50 percent of the vote to secure the GOP designation at the convention, which is expected to be held in May. 

DeFrancisco has been endorsed by 17 county chairs representing 18.23 percent of the weighted vote. He was closer to 20 percent until Strange, the Chemung County GOP chair, withdrew his support and backed Molinaro. 

Republican leaders hope to avoid a primary. Before Molinaro told GOP leaders he would seek the nomination, the candidates agreed they wouldn't force a primary. 

The GOP nominee will likely face Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the general election. Cuomo, a Democrat, is seeking a third term as governor.