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What Rep. Nick Langworthy learned as a 21-year-old campaign manager 

‘I was always the young guy,’ New York Republican says

Rep. Nick Langworthy, R-N.Y., “probably wasn’t the most studious” during his senior year of college, he said, but he got a hands-on education in politics. Above, he attends a House Rules Committee meeting in January 2023.
Rep. Nick Langworthy, R-N.Y., “probably wasn’t the most studious” during his senior year of college, he said, but he got a hands-on education in politics. Above, he attends a House Rules Committee meeting in January 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Nick Langworthy was still an undergraduate student when he launched his political career, managing his first congressional campaign while juggling college classes. It started a trend for him.

“I was always below the median age on everything,” the New York Republican says. “I was the youngest county chair at 29, the youngest state chair at 38. Those age ranges were just unheard of for those positions.” 

He finished up his senior year of college while working as a district staffer for then-Rep. Tom Reynolds, R-N.Y., who became an influential figure in his life, Langworthy says. He went on to run Reynolds’ 2006 reelection bid, a campaign he calls his “master’s degree.”

Another campaign he managed sent Chris Lee to Congress in 2008, followed by his stints with the local and state GOP. But Langworthy stayed mostly behind the scenes until he ran for the House himself in 2022, winning his seat in New York’s 23rd District, which encompasses the state’s western corner. 

“I was always the young guy, and now I’m not anymore. It’s tough to transition to say, ‘Oh, my God, I could be these kids’ dad,’” says Langworthy, now 43. “But in Washington, you see young people who are hustling hard and working hard. And I’m just so proud of our team here.”

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Q: What is your earliest memory of politics, or being aware of politics?

A: My family wasn’t involved in politics at all, but our family business was a tavern. My father has been a bar owner for 46 years and still does it today, so I certainly experienced a lot of conversation about current affairs. 

I was a ’90s kid, coming of age in high school when all the controversy surrounding President Clinton was at the forefront. That sparked an interest in me. It wasn’t necessarily the impeachment itself, but just the ’94 revolution and the Republicans taking the House back. 

Because I was in school during the day, I couldn’t listen to Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. But the television show would be on, and I would always tape that on the VCR. 

Q: You were still in college when you ran your first congressional campaign. How did you get that job?

A: When I got to Niagara University, some of my fellow poli-sci students and I founded a chapter of College Republicans, and we went about getting involved in local campaigns. 

The first race that I ever knocked on a door for was John McCain for president, in the 2000 primary. It was a ragtag bunch, since most of the political establishment were Bush delegates. Henry Wojtaszek was then the Republican chairman for Niagara County, and I got to know him. 

I went on to work for Gov. [George] Pataki in Albany as my summer internship, and then Henry decided to run for Congress. It was just like now — redistricting in New York turned things upside down at the eleventh hour, and he became a candidate very late in the game. He said, “Will you take the reins?” 

Q: How did you manage that with your college classes?

A: I guess not much of a personal life. You know, I probably wasn’t the most studious. I took a gentleman’s C here and there. But I had the bug. I love campaigns, and I learned way more than I would have in any of those classes. 

I developed a lifelong bond with Henry, who’s a dear friend of mine to this day. The great thing about being so young and idealistic is you’re not jaded, and I didn’t realize that we probably didn’t have much of a chance. When you look at the district, it was all of the city of Buffalo, all of the city of Rochester and one strip in between. It was gerrymandered perfectly to keep the incumbent [Democrat Louise Slaughter] in there. 

Had it been a tier-one race, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be a campaign manager on a congressional race at that age. But he performed extremely well, given the overlay. 

Q: What moments stand out from that time?

A: One memorable moment was when Louise Slaughter brought Richard Gere to Buffalo for a fundraiser. We put together a little street theater and got some College Republicans out there with signs to greet all the glitterati of the Democratic Party.

“Jobs, not stars” was my favorite one, I think. It was a different era. It wasn’t nasty. We thought we were really cutting-edge at the time, but by today’s standards, it was very mild.

Q: What did you do after that? 

A: That opened the door for me to meet a man named Tom Reynolds, who was the neighboring congressman. I was hired by his district office, and I started while I finished up my senior year. 

He became a tremendous mentor to me, a father figure, and [we still keep in touch]. He had a theme that has stuck with me: When it comes to our constituents, no problem is too big, and no problem is too small. And another takeaway was just how important it is to have a bond and an open-door policy with local elected officials. A town supervisor or a mayor, they’re going to hear everything. 

My last big act with Tom was his last race in ’06. I left payroll, went on to the campaign, and it ended up being an epic, epic campaign. 

Q: You were 25 years old at that point.

A: I always say that race was my master’s degree. We ran against a self-funding industrialist who made heating elements, and the Chinese were copying his product, totally blowing through his patents.  

This gentleman [Jack Davis] was running as a Democrat, but he captured a kind of populism, understanding that NAFTA has cost us jobs — almost like a pre-Trump canary in a coal mine for Western New York. Ten years later, those would become mainline Republican positions. But in the [George W.] Bush years, Republicans were really supportive of free-trade policies, and my boss was in national leadership. He was NRCC chairman at the time, and you couldn’t really stop the free-trade agreements that the president of your own party was putting forward. 

So it was an unorthodox race. It was a Republican seat, but it ended up being a 15-round heavyweight bout, and it got sucked into the national scandals around Mark Foley, [the Florida Republican who sent sexually explicit messages to teenage House pages]. 

Q: What have you seen change in congressional politics since your early work?

A: You see performance artists on both sides. The internet and social media have changed everything. The rise of digital fundraising — I think it’s eroding the institution, because it’s all about trying to catch lightning in a bottle so people will click a button and give you 25 bucks. 

I mean, I was a party chairman for 14 years. I certainly know how to mix it up and throw a punch and take a punch, and call people out. I’m not shying away from that, and I’m not naive. But this has got to be about results at the end of the day.

Our area of the state has had too much turnover, in both of the House seats that now make up my House seat, whether it’s just people leaving, or people leaving with a cloud. The Buffalo-area delegation is now myself and Mr. [Tim] Kennedy. He was sworn in this May, so I’m the senior statesman. 

Q: One of those Buffalo-area lawmakers who resigned with a cloud was your former boss Chris Lee, who sent a shirtless photo of himself in response to a Craigslist ad. 

A: By today’s standards, my gosh, it was a nothing-burger. I think people liked the job he was doing, and he could have survived. But it was a personal issue for his family, and I respect that.

Q: Was it your plan all along to run for office yourself?

A: My congressman when I was growing up was Amo Houghton. He was a titan. His family founded Corning, the largest employer in my district, and even though he was a millionaire, he represented some of the poorest parts of New York, and he did it with class and dignity. 

I represent territory that Jack Kemp had in his district, and Bill Paxon and Tom Reynolds — these are all people who had storied careers. 

But now we’ve had so many resignations and abrupt retirements and indictments, and it was time that we cleaned the decks. I didn’t think I would ever run for office, but I want to have a quality of representation for our end of the state that isn’t a punch line, isn’t scandal-ridden. 

And I was a vetted commodity. Trust me, if Andrew Cuomo had something on me, he would have knocked my block off a long time ago, because I chased him all the way around New York.

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