Paterson, Lazio in NY-Gov Race. Cuomo, Giuliani Wait

Embattled New York Democratic Governor David Paterson (D) put to rest any speculation on whether he would seek reelection in 2010 last week with the surprise release of two television commercials. The release seems intended as much to get the jump on and force the hand of Paterson’s expected primary challenger, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, as it is to reintroduce Paterson to the voters.

Paterson suffers with approval ratings below 40 percent in the most recent Quinnipiac University poll.  But that number is up almost 20 points since September.

In a spot titled “Self,” Governor Paterson seeks to turn his unpopularity into an asset, casting the governor as a leader willing to make tough, if unpopular decisions.

“It might have been easier if all I thought about was running for governor,” Paterson says to the viewer.  “But I think it’s more important to do what’s right for the people of New York.”

Cuomo, who has yet to make an announcement on the governor’s race, has an active campaign website for the 2010 attorney general’s race.  He continues to lead Paterson in a potential Democratic gubernatorial primary by as much as 50 points.  With job approval ratings over seventy percent, Cuomo is widely considered to be a shoe-in to abandon his reelection campaign and seek the governorship.

Cuomo has run for the Democratic nomination for governor once before.  That race was in 2002 and it came against a popular African-American, then New York State Comptroller H. Carl McCall.  Cuomo’s challenge was met with anger from black community leaders, who were eager to see McCall become the New York Democratic Party’s first minority candidate for governor. Cuomo eventually withdrew from the primary, but his name remained on the general election ballot on the Liberal Party line.

If Paterson’s early entry into the race causes Cuomo to bow out, Republicans would stand perhaps their best chance of recapturing a governor’s seat from the Democrats in 2010. All eyes are on former New York City mayor and presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani, who has been pushing back a decision on running since the summer.  

There have been some setbacks for the potential Giuliani candidacy, including his failed attempt to influence the election of a new state party chairman.  Ed Cox, the former New York state chairman of the McCain campaign, was elected in late September over Giuliani’s preferred candidate, Niagra County GOP Chairman Henry Wojtaszek.  In the weeks preceding the election, there was grumbling among some county chairs that Giuliani’s indecision on the governor’s race was hurting the party’s chances at knocking off the vulnerable governor.

In another ominous sign for a Giuliani campaign, venerable New York political reporter Fred Dicker reported that Cuomo has secretly notified Giuliani of his intention to challenge Paterson.  Giuliani and Cuomo are reported to be friendly, and Dicker reports some New York Republicans don’t think the former mayor has the stomach for a hard-fought campaign against the well-funded and popular attorney general.   

Meanwhile, former U.S. representative Rick Lazio has formally announced his candidacy for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.  Lazio, most famous for approaching then First Lady Hillary Clinton during a televised debate in the 2000 U.S Senate race (and being bashed for invading her “personal space”), is campaigning on a platform of reforming state government, including rewriting the state constitution to eliminate one of the two house of the state legislature.

But Giuliani’s prospects have received a boost in recent weeks as well.  Giuliani played an outsized role in helping Christopher Christie beat incumbent Governor Jon Corzine in New Jersey earlier this month.  He was an early endorser of Christie, shepherding him on the cable opinion show circuit with a joint appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show and spending crucial days campaigning with Christie as the election drew to a close.  Christie’s win may have helped remove some of the stigma from his failed presidential bid.

Republicans hopes were similarly buoyed by victories in two suburban New York City races.  Nassau County on Long Island was once a Republican stronghold but had recently been dominated by Democrats.  County Executive Thomas Suozzi defeated Republican Ed Mangano on election night by the slim margin of 237 votes, but a recount of machine ballots has given Mangano an apparent victory.  Republicans also took back control of the county legislature.  In upstate Westchester County, Rob Astorino, a broadcaster, producer, and former county legislator trounced three-term incumbent Democrat Andrew Spano in a 14-point landslide.

Hoffman Recants Concession Speech

Upstate Republicans are still watching the 23rd Congressional district special election. The election night tally put Democrat Bill Owens ahead of Independent Doug Hoffman by more than 5,000 votes.  But problems with the count and a re-canvass have cut that lead nearly in half to just over 3,000.  That prompted Hoffman to recant his election night concession on conservative radio host Glenn Beck’s show on Monday.  More than 6,000 absentee and military ballots wait to be counted.

The Hoffman campaign is walking back the candidate’s statement on Beck’s show, saying it was an, “harmless, off the cuff remark,” that has been given more significance that it deserves. Hoffman spokesman Rob Ryan put the focus on House Democrats for seating Owens prematurely.

“The real story here is why Nancy Pelosi swore in Bill Owens when the Clerk of the House had been notified that the election had not been certified.” Ryan said. “The answer is obvious.  She needed another vote on health care.”

In an e-mail to HUMAN EVENTS, Owens’ Communication Director Jonathan Boughtin said Owens is not worrying about the recount.   “Congressman Owens is hard at work doing the job he was elected to do.  He is looking forward, not backward.”  

Still, with the New York State Board of Elections not expected to officially certify the results until sometime in December, Ryan said the campaign has a, “slight glimmer of hope, but a glimmer nonetheless,” of picking up a surprise victory in New York.

Giuliani was not personally involved in either of the county executive races or in the 23rd district.  However, Republicans quietly hope that the results signal resurgence for the party in the suburbs and rural areas of the state.  Some early polls of the 2010 race show that while Cuomo leads in a head-to-head match up, Giuliani is preferred over Cuomo by suburban voters.  Ironically, Cuomo runs strongest in New York City.

In addition to the congressional races, there are 37 governorships up for grabs in 2010.  Republicans are seeking to capitalize on the momentum generated by victories in New Jersey’s and Virginia’s contests, and they see a tempting target in New York.  But Paterson is giving every indication that he is not going to go quietly, and Cuomo represents a significant obstacle to the governor’s mansion. Paterson has started his underdog campaign early.  So far, the big players seem content to wait a bit longer before jumping in.