If the national political climate this year is supposed to favor Republicans, participants in the New York governor's race apparently haven't gotten the memo yet.
Polls show Democrat Andrew Cuomo overwhelmingly favored at the start of the race to replace departing Gov. David Paterson, even though Cuomo, the state attorney general, hasn't even announced plans to run. Vying to challenge him are three Republicans engaged in a battle heavy on back room drama even as their candidacies barely register with voters.
To be sure, New York isn't immune to the prevailing political environment; voters here are freighted with some of the highest taxes in the country, and frustration with state leaders in Albany runs high.
"New York is a long-term blue state; everything, demographically, is moving that direction. But the way the economy is going, a Republican running against Albany could have a chance," said Richard Flanagan, a political science professor at the College of Staten Island.
The question is whether any of the Republican candidates in this field is strong enough to capitalize on the public mood and slow the Cuomo juggernaut.
There is Rick Lazio, a former Long Island congressman best known for losing badly to Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton in the 2000 Senate race. Lazio has the support of top Republicans like former Gov. George Pataki and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who's scheduled to host a campaign fundraiser for Lazio at a midtown hotel Monday night.
But Lazio's candidacy has been viewed as so weak by many party insiders that the Republican Governor's Association and state GOP chairman Ed Cox recruited Steve Levy, the Democratic Suffolk County executive, to switch parties and seek the GOP nod.
Levy has won praise for trimming taxes and spending in populous Suffolk County, and began the race with a $4.1 million in the bank. But after he launched his campaign with great fanfare in March, he has failed to show any significant momentum just weeks before next month's state GOP convention where the party's nominee will be selected.
Because of his recent party switch, state law requires that Levy win the support of at least 51 percent of convention delegates to run as a Republican — a threshold even his most ardent backers worry he may not meet.
Lazio insists at least 51 percent of delegates have already committed to him — a claim Levy denies as he travels the state urging party leaders to shift their support.
"I am in a much better position than I thought I would be, and we definitely have an ability to win this thing in June. That's all we could have ever expected," Levy said.
Then there's Carl Paladino, a wealthy Buffalo real estate developer who pledged to spend $10 million of his own money on the race when he joined the field last month. Almost immediately, he was forced to explain pornographic and racially provocative e-mails he had sent to friends, including one depicting President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama dressed as a pimp and prostitute.
Paladino has refused to disavow the e-mails, calling their release a Democratic smear. He attempted to change the subject this week in a YouTube video channeling Cox's late father-in-law, former President Richard Nixon, to ask why Cox, the GOP chairman, would support Levy.
"Ed, have you lost your mind?" the Nixon character intones, suggesting Levy was "still peeling the Barack Obama bumper sticker off his car."
Lazio, who has been campaigning for a year, has also expressed frustration over Levy's emergence and said he worried of unfair favoritism at the convention.
"It's not been a perfect process," Lazio told The Associated Press. "I expect, and people will demand, that the rules at the convention will be evenhanded and not manipulated. If that's not the case, it's going to lead to a fracture that could be very damaging."
The decision to back Levy has definitely been a gamble for Cox. He took over the moribund state party last September and immediately suffered a very public humiliation when a Democrat, Bill Owens, won an upstate Congressional seat long held by Republicans in a special election.
Cox's support for Levy has also irked Mike Long, the influential chairman of the state Conservative Party who supports Lazio and has said publicly he could never back Levy. An endorsement from the Conservative Party is generally considered crucial for Republicans running for office in the state.
Still, Cox insists the debate has been healthy for the party and will help select the best candidate to challenge Cuomo in the fall.
"It's not a feud that's dividing the party, it's a discussion that's going on among party leaders about who is the best person to head the ticket and serve the state going forward," Cox told the AP.
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