KINDERHOOK, N.Y. – He is a Republican former Army colonel with political positions diverse enough to support gun rights and gay marriage. He won re-election in a Hudson Valley district that favored President Barack Obama and captured a third term by crushing a deep-pocketed Democrat by almost 30 points.
It's enough to make U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson confident he can break the hammerlock Democrats have had on statewide offices in New York since 2006 to become governor.
But as the 51-year-old edges closer to running in 2018, he acknowledges the Republican path to victory is "steep and narrow" in a state with twice as many Democrats.
"My eyes are wide open ... you serve in Iraq your eyes are wide open," Gibson told The Associated Press at his Kinderhook district office. "It's hard, but you look at the disillusionment across this state. People are starving for truth and leadership."
Gibson this past week launched a committee allowing him to raise money for a run. And he's crisscrossing the state for the likes of Republican receptions in western New York and a post office dedication in Long Island as he finishes his final term in Congress this year. It can seem ridiculously early to prepare for 2018, but he's using the head start introduce himself to voters.
Gibson and his wife are raising three teenagers in Kinderhook, the same quaint town south of Albany where he grew up. His 24-year Army career included four combat tours of Iraq and he still keeps a tight-on-the-sides haircut and peppers policy talk with lessons he learned from his time as a brigade commander.
Though he first won his seat during the 2010 tea party surge, Gibson's votes reflect a district closely split between Democrats and Republicans. Gibson opposes Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 2013 firearm restrictions and has supported the repeal of Obama's health care act. But he also was among hundreds of Republicans who signed a friend-of-the court brief at the Supreme Court last year supporting same-sex marriage and introduced a resolution calling for action on climate change.
"Gibson has really, in an odd way, staked out position on both the left and the right," said Iona College political science professor Jeanne Zaino. "It's almost difficult to tell where he stands at some point."
A little-known Republican state senator named George Pataki defeated Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1994 in part by projecting that kind of moderate, suburban-friendly appeal. But other Republicans have not been able to repeat the feat since Pataki left office in 2006, including Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who lost to the younger Cuomo in 2014.
Republicans running statewide have often become snared in the same campaign-crushing cycle. As underdogs, they have a hard time raising money, which helps cement their longshot status.
Though outspent, Astorino actually got more votes outside of New York City than Cuomo in 2014. But Cuomo ran stronger downstate and won three-quarters of the city vote on his way to a second term. Republicans need to perform better downstate for a decent chance to win statewide.
Gibson has a four-point agenda he believes can rally his party's base while attracting independents and even picking off some Democrats. It includes tax reform, a roll-back of the unpopular Common Core standards, a plan to addresses violent criminals without gun control and a vow to clean up corruption in Albany.
He adds a fifth point too, governing with humility — a shot at Cuomo, who already has $16 million on hand if he runs for a third term. Gibson describes his potential rival as a credit-seeking bully.
"There's too much self-aggrandizement in this governor's approach," he said.
There was no comment on the Cuomo campaign on Gibson's possible run.
Gibson raised $3 million in 2014 to defeat Sean Eldridge, the husband of Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, who tapped his own wealth as he raised more than $6 million. This time, Gibson said he would need a minimum of $20 million to run a credible gubernatorial campaign.
But even if he runs, there are potential roadblocks.
Astorino has shown interest in running again. So has Carl Paladino, the bombastic Buffalo businessman who lost to Cuomo in 2010. There's no guarantee that the state Republican party — home to tea party enthusiasts and white-shoe establishment types — will band together this time.
"I've always felt like the New York Republican party really does eat its young, if you will," Zaino said. "The party really does have to coalesce around him."