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Paladino/Lazio Face-Off Comes to a Head Tuesday in GOP Primary

September 13, 2010

Rick Lazio helped him a lot by running one of the most lethargic campaigns in state history.

And Carl Paladino, despite his craziness and shameful gaffes, somehow has become the reconciliatory choice for Republicans over the GOP snoozefest called Team Lazio (as one commentator put it on NY1, Lazio is so boring he paints his Easter eggs white).

While I will be voting for Lazio tomorrow on principle (because I fear what a Paladino campaign could do to our party for years to come), I think we all can all agree that this has been one of the most disappointing gubernatorial elections our party has seen in years.

It all began to fire up last weekend. In fact, the Sienna Poll released on September 11th was the subject of Maggie Haberman’s recent piece on Politico:

Rick Lazio and Carl Paladino are running neck and neck in the final Siena poll  before the Tuesday primaries, with 15 percent undecided and the race showing a clear upstate-downstate divide.

Lazio leads by one point, 43 percent to 42 percent, the numbers show, but there’s a regional divide that could benefit either man, depending on who turns out, Siena’s Steve Greenberg said..

Lazio is besting Paladino in the suburbs and New York City, winning in both regions by 55 percent and 53 percent, while Paladino wins upstate by 53 percent. They’re also drawing a pretty even split between self-described moderates and conservatives.

Lazio’s negatives are higher than Paladino’s but his voters are more committed and regardless of who people are supporting, most people think he will win. Paladino also only leads by five points among self-described tea party supporters.

Still, these numbers have to give Team Lazio a bit of pause heading into Tuesday to double down on their pull operation.

Given how unpredictable the turnout is, Greenberg said their modeling involved heavy screening to winnow out those who are the likeliest of primary voters, based in part on an actual voter list of prime Republicans who’d voted in at least one GOP primary in the past several years.

“A heavier than normal Republican turnout upstate will likely hand the nomination to Paladino, who leads upstate 53-32 percent, while a heavier than normal downstate suburban turnout will likely make Lazio the Republican nominee, as he leads there 55-30 percent. Lazio also leads 53-33 percent in New York City, which traditionally produces a smaller vote than any region in a Republican primary,” said Greenberg.

“Some political insiders have speculated that the wildcard in this race may be the ‘Tea Party’ voters and whether or not they turn out in a big way. That may not necessarily be the case. Two-thirds of likely Republican primary voters have a favorable view of the Tea Party Movement, while only 17 percent have an unfavorable view. Paladino leads among Tea Party supporters but only by five points, 47-42 percent. Lazio leads among those unfavorable or undecided about the Tea Party Movement,” Greenberg said.

Paladino has not been on broadcast downstate, but, according to Greenberg, he has been on broadcast upstate, Western New York and in the Albany area, and he’s said he’s doing a huge amounted of targeted mail.

Lazio’s been bolstered by a TV buy by the Conservative Party, but he’s running on a small pool of cash in his own account.

The primaries in congressional and state senate races should help Lazio, although the one in NY-1 will probably not benefit him that much, and while there’s a NY-13 primary, Paladino has been working Staten Island hard .

Then, The New York Times had this story out Paladino, calling him a “fiery unknown”:

RIVERHEAD, N.Y. — Inside an Elks’ lodge here in the heart of middle-class Long Island, a crowd of 150 Tea Party members erupted into thunderous applause over the weekend when Carl P. Paladino, the resurgent Republican candidate for governor, outlined his plan to tame New York’s entrenched political class.

“I’m taking a baseball bat to Albany with me,” he told them, setting off shouts of “God bless you!” and “Go get ’em!”

But on the eve of the Republican primary, members of the state’s anxious party establishment are worried that Mr. Paladino is also swinging at them.

Party leaders, after assuming that former Representative Rick A. Lazio of Long Island would coast to victory in the election on Tuesday, find themselves racing to shore up support for their nominee and to beat back an unexpectedly robust challenge from Mr. Paladino, a businessman from Buffalo and a newcomer to politics.

As polling over the weekend suggested that a once-lopsided race was suddenly too close to call, Mr. Lazio crisscrossed the state to lock down votes. Allies rushed out a new series of television ads highlighting his conservative credentials. And after ignoring Mr. Paladino for months, Mr. Lazio openly questioned his fitness to be governor, declaring in an ad released on Sunday that he “can’t be trusted and shouldn’t be believed.”

With turnout expected to be anemic in much of the state, the party establishment fears that riled-up voters energized by Mr. Paladino’s fiery campaign could outnumber less-passionate supporters of Mr. Lazio at the polls.

An inflamed electorate, brimming with anti-incumbent fervor, was supposed to be a rare blessing for New York’s frayed and forlorn Republican Party, improving its long odds against Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, who is running unopposed in the Democratic primary.

Now, however, the party is becoming a victim of that passion and rage as those sentiments are channeled against it by Mr. Paladino.

“If Carl Paladino wins this thing, it will cause severe damage — it could be for decades — to the Republican Party of New York State,” said Michael Long, the chairman of the State Conservative Party, which usually aligns with the Republicans and has nominated Mr. Lazio this year. “The party,” he added, “would live in darkness for quite some time.”

The Republican state chairman, Edward F. Cox, insisted in an interview that Mr. Lazio would prevail, calling him “a very credible candidate” who has “gone through the fire.”

Party leaders believed they had dispatched Mr. Paladino months ago, when they denied him a spot on the Republican ballot at their convention. But he collected 30,000 signatures to run against Mr. Lazio anyway, and has since waged a fierce, at times below-the-radar, campaign, cobbling together a coalition of social conservatives, Tea Party members and deficit hawks.

With Mr. Paladino’s status as a blustery outsider, his message of red-hot anger and his willingness to use his wealth to win, he has emerged as the biggest threat to the state Republican firmament in a decade.

Nothing suggests that Republican officials, or anyone else, will be able to exert control over Mr. Paladino in a general election, heightening fears that a man famous for calling the Assembly speaker the “Antichrist,” for forwarding sexually explicit e-mails and for occasionally mangling the English language could implode under the scrutiny of the campaign trail.

In interviews, rattled Republican officials fretted that Mr. Paladino would alarm and motivate Democratic voters who might have otherwise stayed home and assumed a Cuomo landslide, dooming Republicans further down on the ticket.

Mr. Paladino has suggested that the days of the party leaders who have opposed him “are numbered.” And in an interview after whipping up the audience on Long Island, Mr. Paladino said that Republican figures who had marched in lockstep behind a conventional candidate like Mr. Lazio had misread the mood of voters in the primary.

Anger, he said, has suffused the Republican electorate, not just the Tea Party faithful. “The party rulers haven’t figured this out yet,” Mr. Paladino said. “They still have this nebulous thought out there that they are in control through their committees.”

His damn-the-establishment tone appeared to resonate. Outside the Elk’s lodge, Patrick O’Connell, a contractor who went to the Tea Party meeting unsure of what to expect, said Mr. Paladino’s biography and blunt message had won him over.

“What Lazio doesn’t understand is that he represents the big organized parties; he’s part of the machine that is dysfunctional,” said Mr. O’Connell, 50, who lives in West Hampton Beach.

“Carl represents the angry people in that room,” he added.

Republican primaries in New York State traditionally draw little attention; some analysts say as few as 10 percent of those who are registered could show up on Tuesday.

Local Republican Party officials, even those who have endorsed Mr. Lazio, acknowledged there was an enthusiasm gap in the race. Mr. Paladino’s backers, they said, are intensely loyal to him.

Mario Catalano, who runs Ulster County’s Republican Party, which is backing Mr. Paladino, recalled that people had driven 40 minutes each way to pick up “Paladino for Governor” lawn signs, which declare, “I’m mad too, Carl.”

“When somebody is willing to drive that far to pick up a Paladino lawn sign, that person is out there campaigning for him at the dry cleaner, at the coffee shop,” Mr. Catalano said. “They are talking to anybody who will listen.”

Even if Mr. Paladino loses on Tuesday — Mr. Lazio, after all, is better known and has more traditional endorsements — his candidacy has unleashed something that his party did not anticipate, and will be forced to grapple with long after the primary.

“Maybe this is the wake-up call the party needed to modernize and think differently,” said Nicholas A. Langworthy, chairman of the Erie County Republican Committee, which endorsed Mr. Paladino.

Mr. Paladino, a real estate developer, is frank about his somewhat transactional relationship with the party, explaining: “I have always been ambivalent to all that. Yes, I am running for the Republican line because I need a major party line, O.K., in order to win.”

Mr. Lazio is relying on that kind of clumsy candor to turn off Republican voters. And, despite waves of distrust for Washington insiders, he is also leaning on his record in Congress, which he says shows he is a serious advocate for fiscal restraint and job creation. (He last served in Congress in 2000.)

At times, however, it is a message that is strikingly devoid of emotion. “Look at what I have done in my prior positions,” he said the other day. “Use the same common sense you use when you go shopping. Compare.”

At a fair in Yorktown Heights in northern Westchester on Friday, Mr. Lazio took pains to avoid mentioning his rival. Asked about Mr. Paladino’s strength in the race and whether he had underestimated it, Mr. Lazio instead said that Mr. Paladino was not the right candidate to harness the public discontent. “In my view, it’s important for responsible leaders to channel that energy in a way that gets things done,” Mr. Lazio said.

At one point, he did draw attention to Mr. Paladino, if not in the most flattering manner. At the fairgrounds, Mr. Lazio encouraged a reporter to inspect a red pepper that had been dressed up, with toothpicks and slices of radishes, to look like a contorted human face. Its designer had nicknamed the creation “Crazy Carl.”

“Let the record show,” Mr. Lazio said, with evident glee, “that I had nothing to do with that.”

***

I’ll let the stories speak for themselves. I can’t think of anything else to say. I’m very disappointed, to say the least…

On a positive note, we’ll have post-primary coverage Wednesday on Atlas Shrugs in Brooklyn, and we hope you’ll come back for our analysis.

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One Comment
  1. The GOP needs to be shaken to its core permalink
    September 13, 2010 11:10 pm

    A train wreck like Carl Paladino just might shake the New York GOP from its lethargy.

    If not, then what difference does any of it make?

    Lazio is just more of the same, all over again on a different day.

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