Friday, September 10, 2010

New York Governor Race

Race of the Day

New York Governor

September 10, 2010
53 Days Until Election Day

Status: Democrat Open
2008 Presidential Result: Blue State (East)

Outlook: Likely Democrat

National Republican hopes for a big GOP wave washing ashore this year seem to also have it passing up landfall on the New York Island, at least on the race for Governor and the state's two U.S. Senate contests. The state's embattled and unpopular Democrat Governor finally agreed to leave the scene after much pushing and their nominee in waiting appears quite formidable.

In another strong Republican year, 1994 saw Republican George Pataki deny Governor Mario Cuomo's bid for a fourth term in office. That was definitely one of the major upsets of the year. Not wanting to test his own political vulnerability, Pataki chose not to run for a fourth term himself in 2006. Four years later now, the Empire State is on the verge of having its third Governor in the last four years, after two previous stints in Albany that lasted over a decade. Many Republicans had wanted Pataki or former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani to run for Governor this year (or for what was supposed to be a competitive U.S. Senate race), but with both gentlemen likely still holding at least a flicker of White House ambitions, chose not to be candidates this year for any office.

The winner of New York's 2006 Gubernatorial election was Eliot Spitzer, a high-profile anti-Wall Street Democrat, who was assumed to have his own eye on the Presidency at some point down the line. Spitzer's term as Governor was tumultuous but it was a prostitution scandal that rocked the political world and forced him to step down after just about two years in office. Lt. Governor David Paterson was then elevated to the office of Governor, and hopes were high for a new start under the African-American legally blind veteran politician. Immediately upon taking office though, Paterson spoke openly about past extra-marital affairs and cocaine use. The political wrangling in Albany only got more heated and Paterson soon found himself the subject of several rumored controversies surrounding his personal life and professional ethics as Governor. Nonetheless, Paterson announced he would be seeking a full term in 2010, but after much pressure from state and national Democrats, and with polls showing the Governor would have little chance of winning a primary or a general election, Paterson eventually agreed he would not be a candidate. Presently, Paterson remains the subject of criminal investigations.

One would think that the once strong New York GOP would be in a position to take advantage of voter discord over the entire 2006 Democrat ticket for Governor and Lt. Governor facing disgrace in office, but things have not worked out that way. Even before Paterson ended his reelection bid, state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo was seen as the likely Democrat nominee for Governor. The oldest son of Mario Cuomo, Andrew had long since had his eye on family redemption and the Governorship. He served a time as the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, married and divorced a Kennedy, and dropped a previous bid for Governor in 2002, after it became clear the party preferred another candidate. Now, the boyfriend of Food Network personality Sandra Lee, Cuomo is well positioned to become Governor, after winning his first political office four years earlier.

With both Pataki and Giuliani not materializing as candidates for Governor, New York Republicans were forced to look at the B team. The frontrunner for the nomination is former Congressman Rick Lazio from Long Island, whose last political race was a decade ago, when the once nationally touted GOP rising star wound up getting soundly beaten by Hillary Rodham Clinton in the race that sent the then First Lady to the U.S. Senate. Lazio's comeback attempt looked promising if he would have been lucky enough to face the incumbent Paterson, but he has yet to be very competitive with Cuomo in any polling.

Lazio was awarded the nomination of the state's Conservative Party under New York's unique multi-party slating system, but still faces a GOP challenge this Tuesday from a candidate, who was not given the nomination of the Conservatives, but nonetheless has been running to Lazio's right. Wealthy Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino is seeking the office, and appears competitive with Lazio in Republican primary polls. The remaining party establishment nature of Republican primary politics is still expected to give Lazio the primary win on Tuesday. Even if he fails, he would still have a place on the ballot as the Conservative candidate. Paladino is also planning his own place on the ballot with the Taxpayer's Party. The state's laws and party disunity of course would only make it more difficult to defeat Cuomo.

Various New York polls have Cuomo ahead of both Republicans by about thirty points, but if there is any hope of a respectable showing in opposing Cuomo, Lazio is probably the better bet. Paladino's campaign has endured revelations that he has previously taken part in forwarding some very politically incorrect email, and some controversial policy proposals could potentially cause his campaign to be a drag on other Republican candidates down the ballot.

Lazio is a persistent and dogged politician who faces quite an uphill battle against Cuomo. Few give him a chance of victory, but he has been campaigning hard on the issue surrounding the proposed mosque site near Ground Zero of the 2001 New York City terrorist attacks. Public opinion statewide is with Lazio on the issue, and if he can effectively harm his Democrat opponent on the issue, by calling on Attorney General Cuomo to investigate questions behind the sponsors and funding of the mosque, the race may get some notice. A big hope for Republicans will need to be that party identifiers, despite not much optimism for the race, will rally to the candidate by Election Day, and that Paladino, would effectively stand down his own campaign.

If things go right for the GOP, Cuomo could be held to under 60 percent on Election Day, and that could be considered a moral victory for the state's Republicans as they continue the rebuilding process. If the next Governor Cuomo is anywhere close to being as controversial as New York's last two Democrat Governors, 2014 could be unkind to his party.

Lazio campaign link:

2010 Governor races predicted thus far: 7 D, 17 R
Predicted Gubernatorial totals thus far: 14 D, 23 R