NEW YORK - In a year in which Republicans look likely to make sweeping gains in congressional and governors' elections, New York Democrats are more concerned with fighting each other.
The national party has already suffered a stunning loss of the late Ted Kennedy's U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts and a string of prominent retirements. But many Democrats in New York believe that one of their sitting senators and the incumbent governor are too weak to survive.
Governor David Paterson and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand both face voters in the traditionally liberal state for the first time in their current jobs. Paterson became governor in 2008 after Eliot Spitzer quit amid a prostitution scandal and Gillibrand was named in to replace Hillary Clinton who became U.S. Secretary of State last year.
"The state Democratic Party, to the extent that one exists, is in such a state of disarray at this point in time," said Fordham University political scientist Bruce Berg. "They are clearly their own worst enemy ... (and) are doing a very good job of hanging themselves."
Paterson, the state's first black leader, is seen as particularly vulnerable. The New York Times reported that President Barack Obama asked him to step aside in favor of a stronger candidate because he could not win.
Paterson refused and plans to officially launch his campaign on Saturday. But he has only raised $3 million, which pales beside the $16 million banked by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, his likely Democratic challenger. Cuomo also leads Paterson in polls even though he has not yet declared his candidacy.
Gillibrand's likely rival in the Democratic primary is Harold Ford, a former U.S. Representative transplanted from Memphis, Tennessee, who while still officially considering a run is traveling around the state holding events.
Some Democrats see Paterson and Gillibrand as weak and want to replace them in September's primaries to avoid embarrassment in November. Among Republicans, former U.S. congressman Rick Lazio, has launched a bid for governor, while several potential candidate are eyeing Gillibrand's job.
Political commentators said competitive primaries could position Democrats better for November.
"Cuomo appears to be the most commanding Democratic candidate, and I do not think his prospects in the general election would be hurt if he and the current Governor Paterson went at it head to head," said Robert Shapiro, a Columbia University political scientist.
"OWN WORST ENEMY"
Long derided as one of the nation's most dysfunctional state governments, New York has plumbed new depths recently.
"New Yorkers should not be proud of how their system operates," said David King of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.
Since Spitzer resigned, a former senate Republican leader has been convicted for corruption, a Democrat convicted of domestic violence and a Democratic leadership brawl sparked a five week Senate impasse.
The effect has been to weaken Paterson, King said. "Governor Paterson has lost influence in Albany. People have been chatting behind his back for a very long time."
Paterson chose Gillibrand to replace Clinton but the former congresswoman has failed to solidify her position.
Some analysts said a tough primary against Ford could help establish her with voters and she could emerge stronger.
Ester Fuchs, who teaches public affairs and political science at Columbia University, called the Democratic defeat in Massachusetts a wake-up call that proved that weak candidates lost elections. As a result, many Democrats were now unwilling to stick with Paterson and risk losing the governorship in November.
"People are not willing to stand by and support him (Paterson) if it's going to bring them down," she said.
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