Sunday, September 10, 2006

New York Governor Race

Race of the Day

September 10, 2006
58 Days Until Election Day

New York Governor

Status: Republican Open
2004 Presidential Result: Blue State (East)

Outlook: Safe Democrat

Like a patient who is told he has a terminal illness, New York Republicans have to endure a long wait for what has seemed to be the inevitability of losing their hold on the Governorship of the Empire State.

Republicans everywhere rejoiced in 1994 when George Pataki won a race against three- term incumbent Mario Cuomo in a race that few had originally thought was winnable. Since that time, Pataki, who is now the nation’s longest serving Governor, continued to confound his critics by winning a second and then a third term, when the odds appeared to be against him in periods before both of those races. He was the recipient of a good deal of gained popularity after the events of September 2001 in his state, but in his current term, Pataki has lost a good deal of that political capital and has been described as a “absentee Governor”, as he has become more focused on making what now appears to be a long shot bid for the 2008 Presidential nomination. Upon seeing that a 2006 reelection would have been an uphill battle against the likely Democrat candidate, state Attorney General Elliot Spitzer, Pataki decided to not try to do what eluded Cuomo, and seek a fourth term.

For all Pataki’s years as Governor, he is leaving behind a large vacuum as far as the State Republican Party is concerned, as the party cannot even claim to be in the game in the races for Governor and U.S. Senate. Polls have consistently shown that while the popular former Mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani would have been a favorite to win the Governorship; no other Republican even comes close.

A handful of Republicans did jump into the race after Pataki’s decision, and some were regarded as at least somewhat promising, including the former Secretary of State, an African-American who held that appointed position, and the moderate former Governor of Massachusetts, William Weld, who was the state party establishment’s choice for the post. However, these candidates all would eventually drop out of the contest, as New York’s unique election laws which allows candidates to run under the banner of multiple parties played a factor. The Conservative Party was unwilling to support Weld, due to his liberal positions on some social issues, and Weld, who had been nominated by the Libertarian Party, looked like less than a sure thing to win the GOP primary in September. Thus, rather than have multiple Republicans on the ballot under different party designations, Weld was the last to drop out of the race, leaving just one Republican with the very uphill task of representing the party in the fall election.

That Republican is John Faso, the former Minority Leader of the State Assembly, who ran a respectable race in defeat for Comptroller in 2002. Faso is a conservative by New York standards, and to the right of Pataki, but is someone whom the Republican and Conservative parties have been willing to both support and his candidacy at least has the possibility of keeping party regulars from both the moderate and conservative wings motivated to offer support, whereas Weld could have caused conservatives to decide to sit at home. No Republican in some time has been able to win statewide office without the active support of the Conservative Party. While Weld’s moderation on social issues might have made him the more electable general election candidate, New York Republicans seemed to decide that since the race is a lost cause anyway, they might as well go with the candidate that does not philosophically turn them off.

In spite of his being anointed as the compromise candidate, Faso has not yet demonstrated any ability to make inroads in the polls against Spitzer. Several organizations and outlets have conducted polls on this race, but they all look the same. Spitzer is receiving over two-thirds of the state’s support, while Faso is lucky to receive just one-third. It is nothing short of extraordinary to consider that a Governorship looks like it will shift this easily from one party to another, but that is the case. While Faso might be able to make the race a little closer, there is not a single person in the state who thinks he might still win.

Before Spitzer is coroneted as Governor, he may have to undergo some serious scrutiny and perhaps unfavorable press. This Tuesday, the Attorney General is expected to easily dispatch of primary opponent Tom Suozzi, the Nassau County Executive, who has been regarded as a rising Democrat star himself. In fact, there was talk that Republicans were even willing to offer their nomination to Suozzi if he were willing to take it, but those talks do not appear to have ever taken off.

Spitzer’s popularity has much to do with his high profile crusading and litigating against powerful interests in the private sector. He has gone all out in using the powers of his office to prosecute corruption on Wall Street, and while that is a popular position among the masses, especially in such a liberal leaning state as New York, Spitzer has earned the enmity of many in the private sector and world of business. His supporters though view Spitzer as a modern day Teddy Roosevelt, and many believe he will one day use the Governorship as a launching pad to the Oval Office. It is worth mentioning once again, that several polls taken going back to 2005, have shown that in spite of the massive support in the state for Spitzer, he was still running a few points behind Rudy Giuliani in a hypothetical matchup for the Governor's Mansion. Giuliani though has decided that he would rather be President than Governor.

The fact that the race is so uncompetitive and that Spitzer’s political standing as the all but certain next Governor has been present for so long now might mean that the New York and national media might be very anxious to find any angle they can to take him down a notch or two. Several stories have already been written pointing to Spitzer as being overzealous in pursuit of political ends and overly willing to use intimidation and threats of prosecution against potential targets. Needless to say, any sort of incident that might point to Spitzer having abused his power as Attorney General or acting in any sort of hypocritical way could be magnified and have Spitzer on the defensive. Suozzi has been very hard on Spitzer in the primary, warning that he would be nothing short of a disaster as Governor, and Faso can also be expected to keep the heat on, as that might be the only way that the Republican nominee can generate press attention. Nothing has really stuck thus far though, as Spitzer’s lead in the polls has remained solid for several months.

Some believe that Spitzer’s impending landslide, as well as the likely easy win by the party’s incumbent Democrat U.S. Senator could have damaging results for Republicans elsewhere on the state ballot, such as those running for Congress in competitive districts, as well as the long-standing GOP majority in the State Senate. In spite of facing almost certain defeat in the two most high-profile races, Republicans will not to still turn out if they are able to hold on to any sort of power base in the state. As the races for Governor and U.S. Senate have shown in New York, the state’s Republican bench has become pretty thin, and Pataki might have to answer for how that was allowed to take place on his watch over the past 12 years.

New York is full of ambitious, attention seeking politicians in both parties, and come next year, Elliot Spitzer will have a higher profile office to jockey for position with all the other political egos in the state in New York City, Albany, and Washington D.C. alike, whom like Spitzer, all see themselves as a future President of the United States.

Faso campaign link:

2006 Governor races predicted thus far: 8 D, 16 R
Post-election total of Governors predicted thus far: 16 D, 22 R